May 28, 1971 Ora Mae Washington, considered by many the finest female athlete of the 1920s and 1930s, died. Washington was born January 23, 1898 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began playing tennis in 1924 and by 1929 was the national singles champion of the American Tennis Association, the oldest African American sports organization in the United States.
She won that title eight times in the nine years between 1929 and 1937 and won 12 straight doubles championships. Due to segregation and the unwillingness of white players to take the challenge, Washington was not able to prove that she was the best women’s tennis player in the country. In 1931, in the midst of her tennis career, Washington began playing basketball for the Philadelphia Tribune team, black America’s first premier women’s sports team.
The Tribune only lost six times in games played in the 1930s. Washington played basketball for 18 years. After retiring from sports, she supported herself as a housekeeper. In 2009, Washington was posthumously inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame