Historic Highway Marker Unveiled For Durham's Algonquin Tennis Club

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August 7, 2019

Historic Highway Marker Unveiled For Durham's Algonquin Tennis Club

Many business, civic leaders and tennis enthusiasts attended the unveiling of the Algonquin Tennis Club, NC Historical Highway Marker in Durham, on Aug. 15, 2019.    Credit: Leoneda Inge / WUNC

A North Carolina Historical Highway Marker was unveiled Thursday, celebrating the all-black Algonquin Tennis Club. Tennis fans of all ages stood in front of the W. D. Hill Parks and Recreation Center in Durham for the unveiling on Fayetteville Street.

Miles Mark Fisher IV came down from Washington, D.C. for the event. The 86-year-old fondly remembers his days learning and playing tennis on those clay courts.

“I started ball-boying here in the 30s," said Fisher, who grew up on Fayetteville Street. "I ball boyed for Althea Gibson, all of the older players. I knew all of them personally.” 
The Algonquin Tennis Club was established in 1922, born out of segregation. Blacks could not play at white tennis establishments, even if they could afford to play there. The Algonquin Tennis Club, which also became a social club, was a place where African-American business leaders, educators and politicians would meet and socialize. 

In 1935, the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs was formed at The Algonquin. Today the organization still exists, known as the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. For more than 30 years, The Algonquin was a prominent meeting space for parties and for black travelers to stay. Just like tennis courts, segregated hotels were hard to come by, especially in the South.

Nathan Garrett, one of the first African American CPAs in North Carolina, and his family were members of The Algonquin. In his memoir published in 2010, "A Palette, Not a Portrait," Garrett said behind the two-story clubhouse "was a generous and well-kept lawn that sloped down to three red-clay tennis courts."

Fisher, who went on to play tennis in college and coach the sport, said those clay courts hosted many tennis tournaments, and the greats would come.

“Althea played here, Arthur Ashe played here, John Lucas, a lot of the top black players played here," said Fisher. "And then sometimes they would have an exhibition with some of the top white players. They would come out here and play.”

The Algonquin clubhouse was destroyed by fire, and the tennis club dissolved in 1964.

American Tennis Association Tournament at the Algonquin Tennis Club in Durham (circa 1950)  Please note Arthur Ashe third youth from right on front row (From "Durham's Hayti" by Andre Vann and Beverly Washington Jones.)

Countdown To Algonquin
“20 Days” Until the August 15th Unveiling
Of the Algonquin Tennis Club Historic Marker
A "Score of Days" Away from the Algonquin Unveiling 
In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln utilized the word, "score" to refer to the eighty seven years that had passed between the Declaration of Independence and his famous oration.  Also, the Bible (Psalm 90:10) speaks of a life span as "three score and ten years."   Even though these political and biblical references point to a score being a period of 20 years, in actuality, a "score" literally can be a group of 20 of any items.   Therefore, for our Algonquin purposes, today, Friday, July 26, places us exactly "one score of days" before the unveiling of the ATC marker on Thursday, August 15.
Please Join Us at the City Council on August 5.
As previously mentioned, the Durham City Council will devote a short portion of its August 5 agenda to the historical contributions of the Algonquin Tennis Club to Durham and to the world of tennis.    This tribute will allow the council members to learn more about the history of the Algonquin and about some of the Durham legends associated with the club.   Council members officially will be invited to witness Mayor Steve Schewel’s participation in the marker activities on August 15.
Duke Research Uncovers an Algonquin Event
It is not an earth-shattering "find."   However, the attached 1941 Algonquin notice reveals a non-tennis recreational activity that was aimed at the youth of the community.   This single sheet was found among the Asa Spaulding Papers in the Rubenstein Research portion of Perkins Library at Duke.   The sheet was an appeal to the adult members of the club to donate funds to support this youth activity at the ATC almost 80 years ago.  The sponsoring Algonquin group was called the “Junior Activities Committee.”  This committee was chaired by Ms. Bessie A.J. Whitted, who was one of the top female employees at the Mutual.  She dedicated much of her spare time to the youth of the community.  In his book, A Palette, Not a Portrait, Nathan Garrett mentions that “Miss Bess” helped to teach the game of tennis to local youngsters.   Another listed member of this committee was R.N. Harris, who would, in 1953, become the first black member of the Durham City Council.   W.D. Hill, for whom the recreation center is named, was another member of the group, along with his wife, Ethel Hill.  W.D. Hill, an insurance executive, was one of the founders of the Durham Committee.  Several of the other committee members will be recognizable to folks of a certain age.    Please check out these links:
Aug. 13 – Screening of “Negro Durham Marches On”
To add context to the Algonquin Tennis Club marker unveiling, there will be two screenings of this 1940s-era film that was produced by the Durham Business and Professional Chain.   This 28-minute film will be shown at 3:00 PM and again at 4:00 PM on Tuesday, August 13 at the Stanford Warren Library.   There will be a discussion period after each showing.   The film provides a glimpse of the heyday of the Hayti business district in the 1940s and 1950s.  A brief segment of the film spotlights the Algonquin Tennis Club.
Joe Williams:  One of Durham’s Finest Tennis Stars
As mentioned above, the Algonquin Tennis Club reached out to the broad black community during the era of segregation and helped to develop the tennis skills of many Durham youth.   One of those Durham youngsters was Joe Williams, who became one of the best tennis players in the United States.  Mr. Williams led the NCCU Eagles to national tennis prominence during the mid-1960s.   He was inducted into the NCCU Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.  Please click onto the following link:

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