Angela Buxton, UK Jewish Tennis Legend Who Fought Antisemitic Discrimination, Dies at Age 85
A British Jewish athlete who electrified the world of tennis during the 1950s with her victories at Wimbledon and the French Open has passed away at the age of 85.
Angela Buxton — born in Liverpool in 1934 to Jewish parents who immigrated to England from Russia — continually faced antisemitic discrimination throughout her career, despite her star status.
In 1956, Buxton enjoyed her best year in tennis, winning the women’s doubles final and reaching the women’s singles final at Wimbledon. That triumph, however, was not enough to guarantee her membership of the All-England Tennis Club, which automatically takes Wimbledon victors into its fold. Her Jewishness stood in the way.
“It’s an unfortunate example of how the British really treat Jews in this country,” Buxton told the UK’s Sunday Times last year. “This sort of thing exacerbates the feeling towards Jews. It’s perfectly ridiculous, it’s laughable. It speaks volumes.”
Buxton had already experienced discrimination when she was rejected for membership by London’s elite Cumberland Club for tennis players. When she asked coach Bill Blake whether the decision had been made “because I’m not good enough,” he replied, “No, it’s because you’re Jewish.”
Undeterred, Buxton began training at the indoor tennis court belonging to Simon Marks, founder of the British department store chain Marks & Spencer.
That experience in the UK helped to turn Buxton into an early poster child for the civil rights movement in the US, a decade before the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965.
The young Jewish woman from Liverpool teamed up with Althea Gibson — a young black woman from the Harlem section of New York City — as her doubles partner. A memoir of Buxton in The Guardian noted that the two had met while competing in a tournament in India in 1955. Buxton “noticed that Gibson was spending much of her time alone and befriended her: ‘We became pals and did everything together,'” the piece recounted.
The following year, the Buxton-Gibson partnership went on to tournament victories at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Their partnership came to an abrupt end in 1957, however, when a hand injury compelled Buxton to retire from professional tennis.
During the later years of her life, Buxton moved to the US. She died at her Florida home on Aug. 14, one day before her 86th birthday.