July 6, 2010
From Isner and Mahut setting a new record for the longest professional tennis match to previous champions Venus Williams and Roger Federer crashing out in the quarter-finals, Wimbledon 2010 was an exhilarating tournament to watch. But this year’s competition is not the only one to have delivered shocks, unexpected results and landmark events.
Fifty-three years ago today, on July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson became the first African-American to win the ladies’ singles title at Wimbledon. Gibson, who had won the women’s singles tournament at the French Open the previous year, beat fellow American, Darlene Hard, in straight sets to take the championship title.
The National Museum of American History possesses a sizable collection of Gibson’s trophies and other possessions. And at the National Portrait Gallery, a heartwarming photograph by Genevieve Naylor, shows Gibson teaching Harlem children how to hold a tennis racket. The image appeared in the recent show “Women of Our Time.”
Although born into a poor family in the 1920s, Althea Gibson was fortunate to come to the attention of Dr. Walter Johnson–a physician from Lynchburg, Virginia, who was active in the black tennis community. Johnson soon became her patron and under his guidance Gibson improved her game, while he sought out ways to propel her into the recognized tennis scene.
Throughout her amateur career, Gibson won a staggering 56 singles and doubles titles, including 11 major titles in the late 1950s at championship tournaments such as the French Open, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. She was ranked the top U.S. tennis player in 1957 and 1958, and was the first black player to be voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in those same two years.
But her achievements do not stop there. During her retirement from amateur tennis, Gibson wrote her autobiography entitled I Always Wanted to Be Somebody, and released an album, Althea Gibson Sings. And as if mastering the art of professional tennis was not enough, in 1963, Gibson became the first African American woman to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
For many, Gibson is remembered as the Jackie Robinson of tennis, for overcoming barriers of race and color at a time when segregation was rife. Billie Jean King, winner of 12 Grand Slam titles, once said of Gibson, “If it hadn’t been for her, it wouldn’t have been so easy for Arthur Ashe or the ones who followed.”
June 25, 2010
Last week the National Zoo welcomed another baby animal to their steadily increasing brood. On June 16, Shama and Tate, a pair of red pandas, became proud parents to a single cub: a tiny, sandy-haired creature that will achieve its full adult fur and coloring when it is around 90-days old. The birth is a first for both Shama and Tate, and is the first red panda birth at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. in fifteen years.
The cub’s parents were introduced 18 months ago, when Tate came from the Nashville Zoo to breed with the then 2-year-old Shama. The pair did not waste any time and displayed typical reproductive behavior within seconds of their meeting. But, like giant pandas, red pandas only have the opportunity to conceive once a year, and for this inexperienced pair, it took a couple of attempts before they were successful.
The birth of this new club not only represents a triumph for the National Zoo, but also for the entire conservation community. At present, there are fewer than 2,500 red pandas left in the wild and due to habitat loss, they are considered an endangered species. The director of the Zoo, Dennis Kelly, explains that, ”As red panda numbers decline in the wild, a healthy, thriving captive population will become more and more important to the survival of the species.”
The presence of the new arrival indicates that the red pandas are comfortable and well adjusted to their home here, which is characteristic of their natural habitat of the cool bamboo forests in Asia.
Scientists and biologists at the Zoo have a history of studying the reproduction of red pandas and the new cub, who is yet to be named, will become an important part of their work. Tom Barthel, curator of the Asia Trail says, “We are excited about the opportunity we’ll have to watch and learn from the interactions between the red pandas as Shama raises the cub.”
To ensure that Shama and her new cub benefit from the peace and quiet they need to bond, the red panda section of the Asia Trail has been closed off. Once keepers determine that Shama has adjusted to her new life with the cub, the area will reopen and visitors will have the chance to view the newest furry inhabitant at the Zoo.
June 24, 2010
Attention all gamers. Today marks the launch of the goSmithsonian Trek, a new mobile adventure that takes visitors on a tour of nine Smithsonian museums in a quest to decode clues and answer questions delivered via a free Apple iPhone or Android app. The game will be available through July 24.
And here’s the best news, the top two players who garner the highest points and complete all of the challenges—haikus, photo assignments and a final tie-breaker—will receive Apple iPads.
But if you’re in a hurry to play through and, incidentally, have a chance a winning an iPad, too, check out the upcoming one-day only contest at the Castle Commons this Saturday, July 26. Registered visitors will square off in a four-hour timed competition that is open to all comers, though an RSVP is recommended. Arrive at the Castle Commons at 9:30 to register for the 10 AM start of the game. At 2, players will return to the Castle Commons for the announcement of the first-place winner. The lucky champion will receive an Apple iPad—you must be present to win. (Psst. As of this afternoon, not too many people know about this special event, so cancel your Saturday plans and sign up now.)
The game is powered by the Boston-based SCVNGR, a company which creates game experiences designed around specific locations. The goSmithsonian Trek is “all about going places, doing challenges and earning points,” says SCVNGR’s Kellian Adams, a former school teacher, who says she loves the educational opportunities the game provides. The Trek includes more than 70 questions that take visitors on a tour of the Smithsonian Castle, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Freer Gallery of Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the African Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
The goSmithsonian Trek is played on an iPhone or Android after downloading the free App at the Apple App store or the Android Market. For each correct answer, players will earn a range of points, depending on the difficulty of the question. If a clue is answered incorrectly, points are lost.
Visit goSmithsonian.com for more information. SCVNGR has created games in more than 550 institutions across 40 American states and 20 other countries around the world. The goSmithsonian Visitors Guide is published twice yearly and is available for $2 at the museums’ visitor desks, stores and IMAX Theaters.