U.S. Tennis Association Honors Pioneering Black Female Athletes
Long before Venus and Serena Williams became household names, nationally known tennis stars Margaret “Pete” and Maltida Roumania “Repeat” Peters proved that African Americans can dominate the sport.
From the late 1930s into the early ’50s, the two sisters were known for their slice serves, fierce backhands and decisive chop shots. Together, the Tuskegee University graduates won a record 14 American Tennis Association (ATA) doubles championships on two streaks from 1938-1941 and 1944-1953, a feat unmatched among women players in the association’s history.
Last month, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) honored the Peters sisters with an achievement award during the Federation Cup quarterfinals in their native Washington, D.C. In November, the sisters will be inducted into the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic Section Hall of Fame.
Their most recent honors came as a result of admirers’ efforts to tell the sisters’ untold story. Among those is Camille Riggs Mosley, a tennis enthusiast who is co-writing the history of Black Americans in the sport.
Mosely’s Outside the Lines: The History of African Americans in Tennis profiles the Peters sisters, and in the process, abolishes the myth that they and other Black athletic stars — past and present — are statistical aberrations.
“I knew that Venus and Serena were not the first successful Black female tennis players,” Mosley says. “They stand on the shoulders of great people … Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe were great because somebody enabled them to be there. They didn’t create the game; they stood on the shoulders of others.”
Playing in the ATA, which was created in 1916 to allow Blacks to play competitively, the sisters gained the attention of Tuskegee athletic director Cleveland Leigh Abbott, who invited them to play tennis at the school on full scholarships in 1937. They were inducted into the Tuskegee University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977.
“It is somewhat ironic that the Peters sisters are being presented this award from the USTA — an organization they could not be a part of during their playing days simply because of their skin color,” Mosley says. “Yet, their contribution to the sport transcends racial lines and is something that we can all be proud of.”
“These ladies are truly trailblazers,” says John Collins, president of the Southern Region of the ATA. “They opened doors we are trying to reopen. It shows our kids that there is a history, a foundation for successful tennis competition. We are not reinventing the wheel — tennis has been played and played well by Black tennis players in the past. That gives us the confidence to advance forward.”
Roumania Peters died this May at the age of 85 after a bout with pneumonia.
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