A week-long celebration of the life of U.S. Congressman John R. Lewis ends in Georgia Thursday where the legendary Civil Rights leader will be buried, but most assuredly not forgotten.  Lewis never grew weary or backed away despite the constant danger he faced during his early years.  On a personal note, I’m especially grateful that he joined the black tennis community in 2008 in our effort to have the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the game’s governing body, induct Dr. R. Walter ‘Whirlwind’ Johnson into the Tennis Hall of Fame as a contributor.  Though Whirlwind had sponsored and developed tennis greats Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe during the era of racial segregation, he was denied entry into the Hall of Fame on a vote two years earlier.  The late Bud Collins, Boston Globe columnist and NBC analyst, told me that many of the foreign journalists voted against Whirlwind because they didn’t know who he was. Another colleague suggested that I solicit Lewis’s support.  His help came in a tribute that he read into the Congressional on November 20, 2008.  About a month later, I learned that Whirlwind would be inducted into the 2009 Hall of Fame in Newport, RI. I can’t say for sure that the Conscience of Congress’ tribute made the difference, but that’s what I believe.  The tribute is below.

[Congressional Record Volume 154, Number 177 (Thursday, November 20, 2008)]

From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office







Of Georgia

In the House of Representatives


Thursday, November 20, 2008


Mr. LEWIS of Georgia.  Madam Speaker I am honored to rise today to

recognize the distinguished career and achievements of Dr. R. Walter

“Whirlwind” Johnson, one of many unsung heroes of the Civil Rights

Era. We also recognize him for his role in guiding the early careers of

Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe–the nation’s first African American

tennis champions.

Dr. Johnson built a tennis court in the backyard of his Lynchburg,

Virginia home during a time of racial segregation and spent more than

20 years (1950-71) training African American athletes who would go on

to compete against top players at major junior events. Dr. Johnson

primarily used his own funds to house, clothe, feed, and develop these

junior players, including Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, who said

repeatedly throughout their lives that they never would have made it

without Dr. Johnson’s generosity and support.

Dr. Johnson inspired, directly and indirectly, many of his students

to pursue tennis-related careers, including Willis Thomas, president of

the American Tennis Association (ATA) and tennis director with the

Washington Tennis and Education Foundation (WTEF) in Washington, DC;

former pro Leslie Allen, ex-chairwoman of the U.S. Fed Cup Team; former

pro Zina Garrison, former U.S. Fed Cup captain; former pro Rodney

Harmon, former head of men’s tennis for the United States Tennis

Association (USTA); teaching pros Arthur Carrington and Bob Davis;

United States Federal Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr.; and Doug Smith, who

covered tennis for 3 of the nation’s largest newspapers–Newsday, the

New York Post, and USA Today and is the author of Dr. Johnson’s

biography, “Whirlwind, The Godfather of Black Tennis.”

Dr. Johnson most significantly helped tear down racial barriers in

tennis years ago and helped Americans understand that tennis should be

enjoyed by all who play and love the game. Dr. Johnson also served as

head football coach at 2 Georgia universities–Morris Brown University

and Atlanta University–in the late 1920s. He later established a

junior development tennis program to train and prepare African American

players, including Arthur Ashe, to compete in the United States Lawn

Tennis Association (USLTA) sanctioned tournaments. Whirlwind’s junior

program was a prelude to the high-tech junior training academies and

camps now run by tennis gurus Nick Bollitteri, Rick Macci and former

No. 1 World Champion Chris Evert. Dr. Johnson operated the camp for

more than 20 years and helped more than 100 African American juniors

earn college tennis scholarships during that era.

Madam Speaker, we should continue to honor American heroes like Dr.

R. Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson who fought for a better America without

race barriers on and off the court. America and the game of tennis have

both benefited an enormous amount because of Dr. R. Walter

“Whirlwind,” Johnson and we as a Nation owe him and other American

heroes a tremendous amount of gratitude.