The net result of 104 years of Black women in tennis: The Slowe serve to Turnbough

After a literal “hot-Lanta” visit to the Sugarcreek Golf & Tennis Center to cheer for our favorite high school tennis competitor, I thought of the similarities and contrasts of days gone by.

It is likely that 15-year-old Allie Turnbough did not understand the significance of her participation in a tennis tourney that highlighted historically black colleges and universities’ interest in her future. As a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, a HBCU that also includes her mother as an alumna, we especially sensed the significance of the day. Her Dad did as well. So did my Mom.

Allie Turnbough, her Mom (my former children’s babysitter) Sondra Bryant Turnbough, and me (in summer dress) and my Mom, Angie Wead, were onlookers to an excellent day of youth tennis. The young tennis players top the photo collage. Not pictured, yet taking pictures was Antoni Turnbough, Allie’s father and Sondra’s husband.

This day was made possible because of the Black tennis pioneers: “Formed in 1916 by a group of African American businessmen, college professors and physicians, the American Tennis Association (ATA) has become the Mecca for blacks – from all walks of life – who yearn to enjoy the camaraderie and competition offered by a sport for youngsters from age 8 to 80.
Since its inception, the ATA, which is the oldest African American sports organization in the United States…”https://blacktennishistory.com/the-american-tennis-association-ata/


The ATA is still in play. During a May weekend in the Atlanta suburban community known as South DeKalb County , the ATA produced a spectacular tournament at the beautiful Sugar Creek Golf & Tennis Club. It afforded teenagers like Turnbough the opportunity to compete with some of the best tennis athletes in the metro Atlanta area. HBCU tennis scouts had the best views.

As a genealogist, I reflect on this day and weekend as a pleasing legacy to Black female tennis pioneer Slowe. The difference is that unlike Slowe who was restricted to only competing in Blacks-only tourneys, Turnbough and her friends are able to prove their talents in fully integrated settings.

U.S. Black female tennis pioneer Lucy Diggs Slowe with her racket in hand, circa 1920.

Many of us know of the great Althea Gibson, Olympic tennis champion and HBCU grad (Florida A&M University). Fewer of us know about Slowe.

Lucy Diggs Slowe

Born in Berryville, Virginia on July 4, 1885, Slowe made history as the winner of the first ATA National Women’s Singles Championship in 1917. This victory made her the first African American woman to win a major sports title. On January 15, 1908 Slowe and nine other woman founded the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. This organization has become one of the most influential association of black woman in the world. In 1919, she worked with District of Columba officials to create the first junior high school in the system. Slowe served as principal of this school for three years. In 1922, she became the first Dean of Women at Howard University. In 1923, Slowe became the founder and president of the National Association of College Women. In 1929, she founded the Association of Deans of Women and Advisors to Girls in Negro Schools (NAWDACS). https://theundefeated.com/features/black-tennis-history-timeline/ This timeline is worth checking out. All of the Black tennis greats are included in this listing and short stories.


As for Slowe, I love the most profound summary bio of her https://ivyleague.com/sports/2017/7/28/history-blackhistory-2011-12-lucy-diggs-slowe.aspx. She was one of the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. on Howard University’s campus in 1907-08. She is also from the “Divine Nine” family royalty of founders as her cousin, Elder Watston Diggs, was one of the founders of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. in 1911. Her founding of schools and academic achievements are also well described in the bio summary.

Finally, young Turnbough also comes from sports and social activism legacy. Her grandfather, Charles Bryant, uncles and cousins are (grandfather Bryant has passed) proven, top athletes. https://omaha.com/sports/huskers/bryant-family-history-comes-full-circle-but-not-in-nebraska-red/article_cc6dd3d5-22c4-56c5-9c64-c58e3d57eac5.html.

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/09/soul-on-ice-man-on-fire-the-charles-bryant-story-from-my-omaha-black-sports-legends-series-out-to-win-the-roots-of-greatness/

Enjoy the game, Allie.

Author: Learning family histories

Our genealogy traces our family from western and central Africa and western Europe. Our ancestors entered the United States at the Virginia and Georgia Ports. First cousins Mark Owen and Ann Lineve Wead (it is protocol to use the maiden names of females in genealogy searches) are responsible for writing this blog. Although Ann has been involved in genealogy research while searching for certain ancestors since the age of 10, the cousins began deeper research of their families during the COVID-19 Pandemic Year of 2020. Devoting as much as 6 hours some evenings to the methodical training and research of genealogy, the cousins completed the year 2020 by earning genealogy certificates. Join us. @goodgenesgenealogy on wordpress and fb, twitter Sign up for our blog and enjoy the journey.

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