N.C. Highway Historical Marker Honors Groundbreaking Tennis Club

Algonquin Tennis Club

The Algonquin Tennis Club was formed in 1922 in Durham to give aspiring African American tennis players a place to meet and play. The American Tennis Association was created in 1916 to encourage and support competitive tennis among African Americans and created the club, where nationally known players competed. A N.C. Highway Historical marker will be dedicated to the club Thursday, Aug. 15, at 6:30 p.m. at W.D. Hill Recreation Center in Durham.

African Americans were not permitted to join the Unites States Lawn Tennis Association in 1916, and the American Tennis Association became the nation’s first professional sports league for African Americans. A group of Durham tennis enthusiasts organized the club to provide a place to play the game and to socialize. After 12 years of meeting in private homes, the Algonquin Tennis Club House was purchased in 1934.  

Nathan Garrett wrote in a 2010 memoir that the club was, “a two-story white frame house with dining and party facilities downstairs and rooms for black tourists upstairs.” He wrote that behind the house the well-kept lawn sloped down to three red-clay tennis courts that were on two levels.

The Algonquin Tennis Club hosted tournaments and exhibitions for black athletes, among them Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. The club also provided a meeting place for Durham’s elite African Americans and it was there that the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs was formed in 1935. Known today as the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, it remains a powerful political force in Durham. The Durham Business and Professional Chain was formed there in 1937.

Called the Algonquin Tennis and Social Club by many, it became a place where leaders of Black Wall Street, and their families and friends, could relax, socialize and play tennis. It seems inevitable that from its membership the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People would have formed. The tennis club closed in 1964 but the Durham Committee remains active and influential.

For information on the Highway Marker Program, call (919) 814-6620. The N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program is within the Office of Archives and History and administered by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Highway Marker Program is collaboration between the N.C. Departments of Natural and Cultural Resources and Transportation.

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