Angela Buxton

Bond of champions – one Jewish, one Black – in 1950s world of segregated tennis


An act of compassion illustrated the character of Angela Buxton, the British-Jewish tennis star who, with the African-American Althea Gibson, won the doubles at the French Open and at Wimbledon in 1956. Many years later, on learning that her friend and former tennis partner was destitute and suicidal, Buxton wrote a letter in Tennis Week, raising awareness of Gibson’s plight among the tennis fraternity — and nearly a million dollars flooded in. This enabled Gibson to live the remaining years of her life in comfort and security.

Having experienced more than a little antisemitism in the course of her tennis career, Buxton was hardly impressed by the headline Minorities Win in a newspaper reporting the pair’s Wimbledon doubles victory.

A few days earlier, she and her mother had ordered tickets for the Wimbledon Ball but were told they were sold out. Sensing antisemitism, her mother threatened to keep her daughter at home on finals day and the two stormed out, only to be pursued by the panic-stricken ticket manager, who had miraculously found two more tickets.

Buxton was also due to play in the women’s singles final, the first British player for 17 years to reach the final, in which she was beaten by the American Shirley Fry.

Angela Buxton was one of two children born in Liverpool in 1934 to affluent parents, jewellery trader Harry and Violet, née Greenberg, Buxton, whose Russian families had fled pogroms at the turn of the century. As she later explained: “Our surname had been something like Bakstansky but they Anglicised it to Buxton.”

To avoid being bombed during the Second World War her mother took her and her brother to South Africa where young Angela started to play tennis. After returning in 1946, she continued playing at her boarding school in Wales, where the tennis coach spotted her talent and said she was a potential Wimbledon champion. He insisted she enter the Hightown tournament near Liverpool where she won the Under-14, Under-15 and Under-18 titles.

She was also talented academically and took her School Certificate exams when she was 14, after which she decided to concentrate on tennis.

In 1947 her parents divorced and she and her mother lived in London, near Hampstead’s Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club. She was trained by the club’s coach but when she applied for membership, she received no reply. “Is it because I’m not good enough?” she asked the coach. “No, it’s because you’re Jewish,” was his somewhat embarrassed response.

She found another club and improved her game enough to win the English Indoor Championship and the London Grass Court Title. But what really gave her satisfaction was to win the Cumberland Club’s tournament two years running — to “rub their noses in it ” — as she put it.

Both Buxton and her mother also experienced antisemitism on a trip to Los Angeles in 1952. As she explained in an interview with The Observer, “It made me more isolated, more determined, more detached. As a result, I was often on my own.”

It was while playing in tournaments in India at Christmastime, 1955 that she met Althea Gibson. She could sense that she, too, was often on her own — “and then we came together and beat everybody.”

It was in spring, 1956 that Buxton’s coach noticed Gibson was having trouble finding a doubles partner for the French Open Championship and asked her whether she would like to play with Buxton. It was then that they scored two impressive championship victories.

Shortly after the Wimbledon victory, Buxton incurred a wrist injury at a tournament in New Jersey that virtually ended her top rank career. She did win the singles in the Maccabiah Games for the third time and played left-handed in a few small tournaments but soon accepted the inevitability of retiring from international tennis.

She became a tennis journalist, wrote several books on coaching techniques, and founded the Angela Buxton Tennis Centre in North London. In 1959 she married Donald Silk, president of the British Zionist Federation, who later gained prominence in the City. The couple had two sons and a daughter.

When the Six-Day War broke out in 1967 she volunteered on a kibbutz in northern Israel, taking all three children with her. The marriage later ended in divorce.

In 1981, she was admitted to the International Jewish Hall of Fame and in 2015 she was welcomed into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame. When a statue of Althea Gibson was unveiled at the US Open Championship in 2019, Buxton was honoured for promoting her friend’s career and supporting her in her decline. As well as writing about tennis, she had co-produced a documentary, Althea, in 2014. She had bought a winter home near Boca Raton in Florida and divided her time between Altrincham in Cheshire and Florida.

Angela Buxton died on the eve of her 86th birthday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her sons predeceased her, and she is survived by her daughter Rebecca Silk, who is married to the Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly. She is also survived by a grandson and granddaughter.


Angela Buxton: born August 16, 1934. Died August 15, 2020

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