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Trailblazer Bonnie Logan was the first Black woman to compete on the Virginia Slims Circuit
“I stand on her shoulders,” said Leslie Allen. “And when we look at the players of today, they stand on her shoulders too.”
Published Nov 21, 2023
A breakthrough moment in women’s professional tennis came in 1972. That was the year Bonnie Logan became the first Black woman to compete on the Virginia Slims Circuit.
“A trailblazer in so many ways,” said Leslie Allen, a former Top 25 WTA pro in the 1980s, of Logan, “I stand on her shoulders. And when we look at the players of today, they stand on her shoulders too.”
Born in 1949, Logan grew up in Durham, N.C. She was inspired and first taught to play by her older brother, George. As journalist Doug Smith wrote in his book, Whirlwind: The Godfather of Black Tennis, “Logan, like Althea Gibson, was a proud I can-do-anything-a-boy-can-do tomboy. She loved to compete with boys in any sport.”
“Whirlwind” was Dr. Robert Walter Johnson. A tremendous force in tennis, Johnson’s goal was to create champions. On the tennis court at his home in Lynchburg, Virginia, Johnson mentored a great many excellent players, including future champions Gibson and Arthur Ashe.
Upon seeing the 11-year-old Logan play, Johnson instantly saw her potential. Joining Johnson’s program, Logan at the age of 12 won eight major titles over the course of a single summer, including several 18-and-under events. Many were part of the American Tennis Association (ATA), the oldest African-American sports organization in the United States, comprised of hundreds of clubs and thousands of players. In 1964, Logan won the first of seven consecutive ATA singles titles.
She also generated great results at USLTA events. Speaking about coming of age during a time of segregation, Logan told Allen in an interview for Tennis Channel that, “I had something to prove, that I could do anything that any white person could do, but even better.”
At the age of 14, Logan was ranked No. 10 in the country in the 16-and-unders.
Attending Morgan State University in Baltimore, Logan was so skilled that she played on the men’s tennis team, in 1969 becoming the first woman to win a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association men’s title. She also lettered in volleyball, basketball, softball and field hockey.
“Bonnie was a tremendous player,” said Art Carrington, who competed against her at various events over the years. “She had an all-court game—quick, consistent. She was competitive all the way.”
Seeing the ascent of the Virginia Slims Circuit, Logan in 1971 contacted its leader, Gladys Heldman, to see if she could join the tour. Soon she was competing at tournaments all over the country, from Houston and Denver to Newport, Charlotte, San Francisco and beyond. In the spring of 1972, more than a year before Arthur Ashe’s historic trip to South Africa, Logan became the first African-American woman to play in the South African Open.
As a high school student, Logan had articulated two goals for herself. The first was to become a professional tennis player. That mission accomplished, Logan went on to pursue goal number two: becoming a physical education teacher. Based in Baltimore, Logan taught P.E. for 32 years.
“That’s my reward,” Logan told Allen, “that I have touched that many children.”