Perlman: Coming together for ‘Althea Gibson Way’

Preserving her legacy with street co-naming

By Michael Perlman

Roger Terry, nephew of Althea’s former husband Will Darben with Althea’s great niece Crystal Thorne.

It may be hard to visualize that relatively not too long ago, tennis was a segregated sport, but that largely changed when racial color barriers were broken at the iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.

Althea Gibson (1927 – 2003) became the first African American person to win the U.S. National Tennis Championships title in 1957. At the time, Vice President Richard Nixon presented her with the championship trophy.

Althea Gibson, VP Richard Nixon, Mal Anderson, Forest Hills Stadium, 1957. Courtesy of Archives of the WSTC

She was also the first Black player to win Wimbledon that year and received the Venus Rosewater Dish from Queen Elizabeth II.

Then in 1971, she became an International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee.

On August 25, which would have been her 95th birthday, history was made once again with the co-naming of West 143rd Street between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards as “Althea Gibson Way.”

Now her legacy will forever be preserved, as New Yorkers and tourists explore a culturally rich New York City landscape.

The location was most ideal, since Gibson and her family lived in a historic building at 135 West 143rd Street.

A block away on 5th Avenue is the 369th Regiment Armory, where she played tennis, and today there are tennis training programs which benefit the community’s youth.

The street co-naming ceremony was heavily attended by family members and friends among fans.

Gibson’s cousin Don Felder had a vision in 2019, and with perseverance, analogous to Althea, it became a reality. He explained, “I had an idea after seeing a cousin of Althea being honored with his name at the intersection of 145th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, ‘The Claude Brown Corner.’ The planning began by contacting the City of New York. The requirements are 100 signatures from residents and businesses on the block and three letters of support. I got support letters from former Mayor David Dinkins, a local church pastor, Whoopi Goldberg and Katrina Adams. The complete package was submitted to Community Board 10. It was approved and a resolution was passed.”

Don Felder holds a photo of Althea Gibson with the Harry C Lee tennis racquet.

Backtracking, Gibson was honored in 2019 with a sculpture near Arthur Ashe Stadium, and she will soon be honored at Forest Hills Stadium during its centennial in 2023, where some of her possessions — including her trophies — will be on display.

Most recently, sports marketing and media specialist Randy Walker republished Gibson’s bio, “I Always Wanted to be Somebody” (1960).

“I would like to see a presidential medal issued to Althea Gibson, as well as see her image on U.S. currency,” Felder said, whose wishes may be granted in 2025 with a commemorative quarter.

Photos courtesy of WSTC

He had much to share about Gibson’s achievements and how it motivates all generations of tennis players following in her footsteps.

“Althea’s perseverance was astounding while realizing the times she played and the racial barriers and obstacles she endured. Althea had to enter from the back of tennis clubs and even change her clothes outside of the clubs before entering, and again leave from the back. At times, she received brutal verbal abuse and attacks, but yet she became the tennis champion of the world who inspired others to persevere in spite of obstacles.”

“I was thrilled,” Felder continued, referencing the moment the sign was unveiled.

“Althea’s nieces came from Virginia to unveil the sign. The drummers did a drumroll as the sign was unveiled and the crowd applauded. My thought is that it has finally been done. After walking the street and getting signatures and letters, we now have ‘Althea Gibson Way’ forever and her legacy lives on.”

A keynote speaker was former USTA President & CEO Katrina Adams.

“It is imperative that we keep her name alive. It’s the next generation that needs to know that before Coco, Venus, Serena, Chanda, me, Lori, Zina and Leslie, was Althea. Why? Because Althea came first,” she said.

Also present was Michael Giangrande, the son of Harry C. Lee & Co.’s vice president.

“They sponsored Althea when no racquet company sponsored Black players,” Felder said. “Michael in his youth would accompany his father to West 143rd Street to visit Althea, and was there after Althea’s win at Wimbledon.” He referenced her greatness.

lthea Gibson’s family who traveled from NY, NJ, Philadelphia, Delaware, VA, NC, SC to honor her.

Roger Terry, Gibson’s nephew, commended her competitiveness in anything, and how she as an older woman would beat him and his friends on basketball and football courts.

“She never wanted to lose in any game,” he said.

Additionally, a young tennis student took the podium and said that when she feels pressure and alone as the only Black girl on the tennis courts, she thinks of Gibson and on whose shoulder she stands on, and she perseveres.

Other speakers included Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Councilwoman Kristen Richardson and representatives of the Police Athletic League.

“Althea learned the game of table tennis on West 143rd Street when the PAL closed the street for recreation for the children,” Felder said.

He introduced his family, whose mothers were in the photo display.

“They were taken in 1957 when Althea returned from her first Wimbledon win,” he continued.

Felder, who holds fond recollections of Gibson, said, “I called her mom and asked if Althea can come to my junior high school in Brooklyn as a guest speaker, and she came. She loved her family and made time to come when we called, even as she traveled the world to play tennis.”

He finds her to be a multi-faceted inspiration.

“Althea was a loving human being. She accepted everyone and enjoyed life. She was more than a champion athlete who excelled in every sport, but was also an actress, singer, and saxophonist, which may be unknown to many. She excelled in anything she did, and I’ve learned that I can do anything that I choose, if I persevere.”

She felt at home at the Apollo Theater, where she won second prize in a singing competition in 1943 and received $10 rather than the promised week of singing engagements, but she did not let it dishearten her.

Felder expanded upon the unknowns. “Althea became friends with John Wayne and William Holden as she acted in ‘The Horse Soldiers’ (1959). She loved to perform while on tennis tours. She played basketball and was a bowler, and was the first Black woman to golf in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She also sang on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ was on ‘What’s My Line?’ and taught tennis to inner city children.”

As Felder toured the grounds and Clubhouse of the West Side Tennis Club, he could feel Gibson’s presence.

Althea in the media display.

“I am in awe that I am walking where she walked and played, gained recognition, and became champion and broke down racial barriers,” he said. “I believe that she is pleased that her family member now sees where she worked and played and loved to be.”

Despite her passing, the public can continue to learn from her accomplishments in the face of adversity.

Felder explained, “Many young people and adults still do not know who Althea Gibson was. She was a great American who overcame many obstacles and became a great ‘Somebody’ as she wrote in her autobiography ‘I Always Wanted to be Somebody.’”

The street co-naming united the community as well as her family, generating a sense of pride, according to Felder. “Althea’s name on the street in Harlem tells other young people from the community that they too can achieve their goals and dreams,” he said.

Maspeth local remembered: Joe Martino, the ‘13th Apostle’

By Jessica Meditz

Martino was honored as Grand Marshal at the Queens Veterans Day Parade in 2017.

Many people utter the phrase, “I wear many hats” when describing themselves in an interview or biography.

It’s true for some people—others, not so much.

Joseph “Joe” Martino, who was a Maspeth resident and ran Hess Miller Funeral Home on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, certainly fit the bill.

Joe passed away in June of 2022, leaving a void in the Queens and Brooklyn communities he served in various ways. He was 94 years old.

His son, Mike Martino, said that even in his father’s final years, he continued to follow his own personal mission: giving back to the community.

“Dad had a really big personality. Like many people from his generation, he was defined by just a few key things: his faith, his family and his country. Fundraising was also always extremely important to him,” Martino said.

“As an Italian, he was passionate about everything that he did, because he used to tell us, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing the right way,’” he continued.

Although Joe Martino was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1927, he came from an old school Italian family from the province of Salerno in the town of Sanza, located in the Campania region of southern Italy.

Martino married his wife, Antoinette, in 1951, and they quickly moved to Maspeth.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II in Japan from 1945 to 1947, and one of his biggest roles was serving food to 5,000 men every single day as a cook.

“His service was everything to him, so his participation in the VFW for years and years was always extremely important to him as well,” Mike Martino said.

His support for all the men and women in the armed forces prompted him to take his role as commander of the VFW Queens Post very seriously. Martino served there for four years.

In honor of his service, Martino was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Commemorative Victory Medal in 2017 and was named Grand Marshal of the Queens Veterans Day Parade the same year.

Martino was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Cpmmemorative Victory Medal in November 2017.

Following the same sentiment, Martino and his son Anthony fulfilled a personal mission to provide funeral services to veterans who had no family or funds for a burial, incurring the costs to put on a service with dignity.

“That was very, very important to them, especially with my dad being a veteran and the services they could provide,” Martino said.

“He won countless awards and recognitions, which really didn’t mean anything to him,” he continued. “The important part was performing the mission.”

Joe Martino had a great passion for helping the less fortunate, as shown through his work with St. Vincent DePaul Society and St. John’s Bread and Life.

Joe was a member of St. Vincent DePaul Society for 50 years, where he served as president of the Brooklyn/Queens chapter for several years and went on to receive the St. Vincent De Paul Medal of Honor. 

The Martinos began volunteering at the St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen in Bedford Stuyvesant during 1984, and Joe was quickly asked to be a member of the board of directors.

Today, the organization feeds over 1,000 clients daily.

Joe helped kickstart their mobile unit, which feeds hundreds of clients per day in Queens and Brooklyn.

Antoinette and Joe Martino received awards for their charitable work, including the Bronze Apple from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Caritas Medal from St. John’s University.

It is among the highest honors awarded by the university for outstanding service to the less fortunate.

“Even in failing health, he was still performing his mission. For example, he made sure that turkeys were getting delivered at Thanksgiving,” Martino said.

“He could have just thrown that all off, but he just had to know it was all being done,” he continued. “My dad never used the term ‘poor,’ he used the term ‘less fortunate.’ He always felt that the ‘poor’ was a nomenclature that shouldn’t define people. Certain people just had less money than others, and certain people had less ability than others.”

Joe’s passion extended to his Italian cooking.

Martino enjoyed cooking for his friends and family.

One of his specialties was the seven varieties of fish he would prepare each year on Christmas Eve for Festa dei sette pesci, or Feast of the Seven Fishes, in which Italian-Americans abstain from meat as a sacrifice.

The meal would take days of advanced preparation, which Martino loved every second of.

“He also made his homemade sauce on Sunday mornings, and then the family was off to church service,” Martino said.

“And when he came back, he had the big Italian meal in the afternoon for everyone. Everyone napped afterward, as one would envision,” he added. “The guy could really cook.”

The Martino family became closely involved with St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Maspeth, which was almost like a second home for Joe.

He was an active parishioner at the church for the past 65 years, and in 2009, he was inducted to the St. Stan’s Hall of Fame for his many years of dedication and commitment to the parish. 

A true man of faith, Martino made every effort to go to Mass each Sunday — even during the pandemic.

Although he was not technologically savvy, Joe would stream masses from around the world through the iPad gifted to him by his family. Even if he didn’t speak the language the priest was speaking, the faith was within him.

“Before I delivered the eulogy, one of the parishioners in his church before the funeral said, ‘Your dad was like the 13th Apostle. He was out there just doing God’s work, without seeking any recognition,’” Martino reminisced.

“I talked about that in my eulogy about his helping the less fortunate. Once he heard of what the need was, if he didn’t have the ability to take care of it, he went and recruited someone or found someone to do it,” he continued. “Whenever I came back to New York to visit, like around Thanksgiving holiday, my dad would say, ‘Take a ride with me.’ But little did I know in the trunk of his car, he had 30 frozen turkeys…and we would drive from one end of Brooklyn to the other delivering them to the less fortunate.”

Joe is survived by five children: Anthony, Michael, Maria, Joann and Annemarie; six grandchildren: Paul, Nicole, David, Matthew, Valerie and Frankie; and three great grandchildren: Paul Jr., Anthony and Kira.

Although Martino was close with his biological family, they say that Joe had many “chosen” family members in the community — who often got invited to family gatherings and dinners.

2022 marks the 40th year of Hess Miller Funeral Home operating under the Martino family.

Anthony Martino will carry on Joe’s legacy of family, faith and community in his memory for many years to come.

Ridgewood rallies for killed DoorDash worker

Groups, pols demand DOT make streets safer

By Jessica Meditz

Two back-to-back hit-and-run incidents took the Ridgewood community by surprise in mid-August.

On Aug. 14, 74-year-old Be Tran, a DoorDash worker and father of two, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver at Myrtle Ave. and Hancock St.

In response, and to demand an end to traffic violence in the neighborhood, Ridgewood Tenants Union and Transportation Alternatives organized a rally on Seneca Ave. — in the vicinity of where Tran was killed.

Adrian King, the owner of King’s Juice Bar in Ridgewood, was on scene when the hit-and-run occurred.

For over a year, King has fought for a traffic signal at the intersection of Weirfield St. and Seneca Ave., due to the countless traffic accidents he’s witnessed.

“I’m so frustrated because I’ve been in Ridgewood for 40 years, and I love Ridgewood. The issue with Ridgewood is that it’s a community based on community, attention, love, dedication and looking out for each other. Today’s generation is a different world,” King said.

“Focus, pay attention, stop thinking about yourselves. When you’re on the street, anything can happen, forces that we can’t control,” he continued. “But if you collectively think about each other, it will be a better place anywhere in the world — so focus.”

Raquel Namuche, founder of Ridgewood Tenants Union, who has worked closely with King to combat this issue, informed the crowd that the Queens liaison for DOT responded to their inquiry for a traffic signal at the intersection.

“We will be in touch about the study at Weirfield St. We are unable to send a representative today,” the DOT representative said in an email. “We are also working to get details around the fatal crash on Seneca Ave., and are looking to see if there are ways to further enhance safety for all street users.”

Namuche argued that the DOT be more prompt and vigilant in regard to pedestrian safety in the community. 

“We need them to do it now. Here at this intersection, it’s been over a year. There’s been numerous accidents, and we can share videos of all the accidents that Mr. King and our neighbor, Robert Diaz, have been tracking here,” Namuche said.

“It is unacceptable. Mr. Tran should not have died. The hit and run on Wyckoff Ave. and George St. should not have happened. That should not be happening, not in Ridgewood, not anywhere in this city,” she continued. “And as long as it keeps happening, we know that DOT and the Mayor are not keeping us safe. And that’s what today is about. They are not enhancing our protection in any way, shape or form, and we need them to do it now.”

State Senator Michael Gianaris and Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez accompanied the groups and numerous community members in attendance.

“I brought this intersection to the attention of the DOT a year and a half ago, and they are still studying it. This is a problem we see everywhere,” Gianaris said. “The city knows what it needs to do to make these places safe. They just need the will to do it.”

Gianaris explained that the city studies and scores a certain intersection before additional protections are added to it.

Part of the score is how many crashes the site has seen, and another is how many people have been injured or killed.

“Queens Boulevard used to be known as the ‘Boulevard of Death’ because so many people were killed in crashes, and after all those deaths, they finally did something about it,” Gianaris said.

“So they have to wait until that happens to get the score high enough to realize that an intersection needs protection,” he continued. “The city has it backwards.”

“Someone who is still working at 74, risking their life every single day to provide for their family and to contribute to an economy for a city that says ‘I don’t care about your safety’ is a slap in the face to [Tran’s] family and their story of coming here to the United States,” Gutiérrez, who represents portions of Ridgewood, said.

“The city has done way too much to empower drivers, at the cost of pedestrians, at the cost of cyclists, of our seniors and of our children. It’s time that we make that change,” she continued. “We need to continue to push DOT. It’s unacceptable that there exists a rubric for how many deaths need to occur for mitigation to happen. I am extremely frustrated.”

Kathy Park Price, a Brooklyn organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said that residents of city streets know them best, and that the organization will stand in partnership with elected officials to do more.

Kathy Park Price, a Brooklyn organizer for Transportation Alternatives, spoke at the rally.

“We know what works and we need to take action immediately…We need to rely on street design and infrastructure to affect change,” she said.

“We know from the DOT that road diets, bike lanes, pedestrian highland, sidewalk expansions, turn calming and leading pedestrian intervals all deliver impressive injury reductions for everyone, including older adults,” she continued.

The program concluded with a moment of silence to honor Be Tran, and a poem read by Michelle Bounkousohn, a member of Ridgewood Tenants Union.

The poem was written in Vietnamese by Ngo Thanh Nhan, Bounkousohn’s grandfather, in memory of his life and legacy in the community.

The poem, Tran’s picture, flowers and candles were placed on the corner of Myrtle and Seneca Aves. as a memorial for him.

On Aug. 10, three people, including a mother pushing her child in a stroller, were hit by an unlicensed driver at Wyckoff Ave. and George St.

The suspect wanted for that incident has been identified as 28-year-old Tyshawn Baldwin.

The hit-and-run driver who struck and killed Tran remains at large, and the investigation is ongoing.

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