Peters, Margaret and Matilda Roumania Peters, (1915 – 3 Nov. 2004 and 1917 – 16 May 2003), respectively, tennis players


Citation:

Brown, Keith R.. "Peters, Margaret and Matilda Roumania Peters." African American National Biography, edited by Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr.. , edited by and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. . Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t0001/e2347 (accessed Thu Feb 19 16:25:30 EST 2015).


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Peters, Margaret and Matilda Roumania Peters, (1915 – 3 Nov. 2004 and 1917 – 16 May 2003), respectively, tennis players, were born in Washington, D.C. Margaret and Roumania, who were often referred to as “Pete” and “Repeat,” gained local distinction playing tennis on the clay courts at the Rose Park playground across the street from their homes in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. They played in an era when blacks were segregated from whites in both national and international competitions. In 1936 both sisters were invited to play in the ATA national championships in Wilberforce University in Ohio. The ATA had been founded in 1916 by a group of African American businessmen, college professors, and physicians who wanted to promote the game of tennis and provide a forum for competition at the national level. The ATA provided the finest competition for blacks in the United States at the time. Roumania played exceptionally well in her first national level tournament, making it to the finals before falling to three-time champion Lulu Ballard in 1936.

As teenagers the Peters sisters attracted the attention of Cleve Abbott, the tennis coach at Tuskegee, who offered them both four-year scholarships. Margaret, feeling a bit uneasy about traveling so far away from home, deferred for a year while waiting for her sister to graduate from high school in Washington, D.C. In 1937 the Peters sisters entered Tuskegee together where they would become the best African American tennis players in the nation at the time. The sisters were feared by their opponents for their excellent slice serves (a form of under-spin put on the ball to keep it low to the ground), chop shots (a shot rarely taught today in which under-spin is put on the ball during a return of serve), and strong backhands.

Both sisters played basketball and tennis while at Tuskegee and both were members of Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities. Roumania became the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tennis champion. Their fame on the tennis court largely derives from the fourteen doubles titles they won between 1938 and 1941 and between 1944 and 1953. Roumania also won ATA national singles titles in 1944 and 1946. In her second title she defeated Althea Gibson, who won ten ATA national singles titles before playing a pioneering role in integrating tennis in the United States and around the world.

After graduating from Tuskegee in 1941 with degrees in physical education the Peters sisters continued to play amateur tennis in regional and national ATA tournaments. As amateurs they had to pay for their own equipment, entry fees, and travel expenses. Their success at ATA events led to some fame. They played matches in front of British royalty and celebrities such as the actor Gene Kelly practiced with both Roumania and Margaret while in the Washington, D.C., area.

Margaret, who never married, briefly moved to New York after graduation and earned a master's degree in physical education from New York University. She later returned to Washington, D.C., to work as a special education teacher. She earned a second master's degree in special education from Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland. She died in November 2004.

Like her sister, Roumania also earned a master's degree in physical education from New York University after graduating from Tuskegee. In 1957 she married James Walker, a math professor from Tuskegee who came to the college after seeing a picture of Roumania in a newspaper. They had a daughter named Frances Della and a son named James George together. Roumania worked as a teacher at Howard University in the 1950s and in the D.C. public school system from 1964 until 1981. Roumania taught tennis to underprivileged children through the department of recreation. In 1977 both sisters were inducted into the Tuskegee Hall of Fame. Roumania died in 2003 from pneumonia.

Margaret and Roumania only recently began to receive national acclaim for their accomplishments on the tennis court. But the league that previously banned them from competing, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), only began to recognize the Peters sisters in 2003. The USTA presented Margaret and Roumania with an “achievement award” prior to a Federation Cup match and in 2003 the USTA inducted both sisters into the Mid-Atlantic Section Hall of Fame.

Further Reading

The Tuskegee University Hall of Fame possesses a few short articles on the Peters sisters.
  • Anonymous. “U.S. Tennis Association Honors Pioneering Black Female Athletes.” Black Issues in Higher Education (28 Aug. 2003).
  • Djata, Sundiata. Blacks at the Net: Black Achievement in the History of Tennis (2006)
  • Mosley, Camille Riggs. Federation Cup Souvenir Program (2003).

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