Whirlwind: The Godfather of Black Tennis

(Whirlwind: The Godfather of Black Tennis) – Robert Walter (Whirlwind) Johnson (16 April 1899 — 28 June 1971), a Lynchburg, Va. physician, was a graduate of Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania and the first African American physician to receive practice rights at Lynchburg (VA) General Hospital.

Johnson, who died in 1971, also was a tennis pioneer and founder of the American Tennis Association Junior Development Program. Nearly every significant African American player to emerge before the 1980s trained on his backyard court, including tennis greats Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. Whirlwind’s story, is indeed a history of the early years of black tennis in America. For more than 20 years he allowed his talented young African American juniors – and some white juniors – to train – without cost – at his at his Lynchburg home.

But far more than a tennis tale, Whirlwind’s story is also the saga of a man whose obsessions – primarily tennis and women – brought joy or pain to those closest to him.

Whirlwind: What The Reviews Say

“If we all agree that Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe were two of the most influential African Americans of the 20th century, then surely we must also agree that the man who taught and nurtured them is someone we should know more about. Doug Smith has delivered that here and I would urge anyone who has been inspired in any way by Althea and Arthur to read this book.”

John Feinstein, Author and former Washington Post columnist

“It’s about time someone told the amazing story of ‘Whirlwind.’ Doug Smith has done it, portraying an American original, complex and vibrant, whose inspiration and drive gave us the champions Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe.”

Bud Collins, Boston Globe/NBC Sports

“While documenting the rarely publicized role that Dr. Robert Walter Johnson played in developing Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, America’s first two African American champions, Doug Smith provides us with something many might consider a scoop. Which is that many blacks helped grow the game of tennis as players, administrators and fans long before Venus and Serena Williams came along. I applaud Doug for telling this seemingly forgotten/overlooked part of the history of tennis in America.”

Zina Garrison, Former U.S. Fed Cup captain and former World No. 4

“This is a story that needed to be told and Doug Smith is the only one who could tell it.”

Tony Kornheiser, co-anchor of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption

“Needless to say, our sport, our country, indeed the world community became a better place because of Althea and Arthur’s achievements. Dr. Johnson made it possible for them to succeed. His extraordinary role should be remembered, appreciated and applauded not just by African Americans, but also by everyone who strives for equality and justice.”

John McEnroe, Tennis Hall of Fame member and NBC/ESPN analyst and commentator