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.