Buxton, Angela : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Buxton, Angela

Buxton, a Briton, was one of the top female tennis players in the world in the mid-1950s. She teamed with Althea Gibson of the U.S. to win the Wimbledon Doubles Championship in 1956. That same year, Angela was a Wimbledon Singles finalist, and was ranked No. 5 worldwide by World Tennis Magazine. Nonetheless, the British tennis establishment subjected her to anti-Semitic prejudice which continues to this day.

As a child, Buxton had difficulty developing her game because of anti-Semitism; young and talented, she was refused membership to one of London's premier clubs, the Cumberland, simply because of her ethnicity. Her experiences with anti-Jewish bias continued throughout her career, and despite reaching two Wimbledon finals in the same year, she has still not been invited to become a member of the exclusive All England Lawn Tennis Club.

"I think the anti-Semitism is still there," Buxton sadly noted in a recent interview (The New York Post, June 13, 2004), reflecting on the pathetic fact that the All England Club, almost fifty years after her Wimbledon triumph, had still not invited her to join. "The mere fact that I'm not a member is a full sentence that speaks for itself." Buxton told reporter Marc Berman that she had been on the "waiting list" since the 1950's, noting that her championship doubles partner Althea Gibson -- winner of five Grand Slam singles titles -- would be on the same "waiting list" if Gibson were still alive (she died in September 2003). "I wish it still wasn't such an elite sport," Angela told Berman. "I wish we could bring it down to a common baseline. It's going that way. It's still not there."

A new book, The Match: How Two Outsiders -- One Black, the other Jewish -- Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History (Harper Collins, 2004), deals with the racism with which Angela and Althea had to cope throughout their tennis careers.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Aug. 18, 1934

Career Highlights:
Buxton began playing tennis as a youngster at a boarding school in North Wales. A coach, Bob Mulligan, immediately recognized her talent and entered Angela in a junior tournament, where she won the under-14, under-15, and under-18 titles.

Buxton and her mother moved to London to develop Angela's potential. She enrolled in a school in Hampstead whose headmistress introduced Buxton to the Cumberland club. It was at Cumberland that Angela first ran into blatant -- and painful -- anti-Semitism. "I had to fill in a form: name, address, telephone number and then religion. I had several lessons there with a guy called Bill Blake and I kept asking him about membership. Eventually he turned round to me and said, 'Look, Angela, please don't keep asking me, you're not going to be able to join the club.' I said, 'Why not? I'm not good enough?' 'No, because you're Jewish.' And that was the beginning. It was the first time it (prejudice) had hit me in this country."

In 1952, Angela and her mother traveled to the United States to continue her tennis development. Once again, Buxton ran into anti-Semitism, this time at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, she said, "...the same thing happened as at the Cumberland. They told me I couldn't play because I was Jewish." Instead, she was forced to train across town at public courts, but this allowed her to practice under the watchful eye of the great Bill Tilden for six months. Angela began to realize her potential and was able to demonstrate her tennis skills when she won the Maccabiah Games singles championship in 1953. She scored an easy victory over Anita Kanter, who was ranked No. 8 in the world and had recently defeated Doris Hart, the No. 1 player in the world. Buxton was ranked No. 4 in Britain the following year and reached No. 9 in the world in 1955. During this time, she also played in the Wightman Cup for Great Britain in 1954, 1955, and 1956.

Despite her climb in the rankings, Buxton found herself on the outside looking in. The prejudice against her kept her from being paired with any of England's top players in doubles competition. Angela observed that "The anti-Semitism made me more isolated, which I shouldn't have been...It made me more determined, more detached. People didn't realise what I was going through, because I didn't bother to spell it out. I just took another route. The result of which was that I was on my own and, for different reasons, she (Althea Gibson) was on her own. And then we came together and beat everybody."

Buxton was referring to Althea Gibson, an African-American shunned by her American teammates. They first met in 1955, and the following year, after meeting again at the French Open (where neither had a doubles partner), they joined together and dominated the competition. Of Althea, Buxton said, "She was on her own and so was I. In a way we were so pleased to find each other because we were real buddies. It wasn't only tennis, we did everything together."

That year, Buxton was ranked No. 5 in the world and reached the Wimbledon singles finals, the first British woman to reach a Wimbledon final in 17 years. She also won the doubles tournament with Gibson. Angela also won singles titles at the English Indoor and London Grass Court, and reached the semis of the French Open singles. Buxton and Gibson, who were the best doubles team in the world in 1956, also won the French Open Doubles title. Still, they were regarded as outsiders. An English newspaper reported their victory at Wimbledon under the headline "Minorities Win."

Although a devastating hand injury severely damaged Angela in late 1956, she and Gibson managed to win the French Open doubles title and Maccabiah Games singles championship in 1957. But the injury -- tenosynovitis, a chronic hand disorder -- forced Buxton to end her playing career at the age of 22, just months after playing in the Winbledon finals.

Angela retired, then turned to writing tennis books, including Tackle Tennis This Way and Winning Tennis and Doubles Tactics. Angela also helped found the Israel Tennis Centres. She maintained her friendship with Gibson (who passed away in 2003) through the years and helped promote the Althea Gibson Foundation. Buxton is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Origin:
Liverpool, England



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References:
Great Jews in Sports, by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co, 1965)


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http://www.observer.co.uk/