Tally Holmes

A native of Washington, D.C., Holmes had an amazing career outside of tennis. He served as an interpreter and intelligence officer in World War I. Upon returning to Washington, D.C., he taught German, French, Latin, and mathematics in the District school system. While teaching, he studied law at Howard University and received a degree in 1924. Mr. Holmes also owned Whitelaw Hotel, which was the largest hotel available to African-Americans in Washington at the time. All the while, he was laying the groundwork in the ATA Championships, which would eventually crown both Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson as champions.

Tally Holmes

In the 1880s, the interest and participation in tennis began to take hold throughout the United States, however, the prevailing belief was tennis was reserved for the elite White social class. 


As a result, the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA), currently known as the USTA, was founded in 1880, which prohibited the participation of African Americans. Segregation throughout country clubs prohibited tennis access to African Americans, which led to African Americans establishing their tennis clubs around Baltimore and Washington, D.C, to foster a social network and create equitable access to tennis in their community.


Talley Robert Holmes, is a 1910 graduate of Dartmouth College,   On November 30, 1916, Tally  was amongst the group of African American businessmen, college professors, and physicians that founded the American Tennis Association (ATA), the governing body for African American tennis. Their initial mission statement was to build the infrastructure for black tennis tournaments, to unite players and fans from all ethnicities, and to promote the game within African American communities.


In addition to founding the ATA, Holmes cemented a wondrous tennis career. Tally won the inaugural men’s singles division at the 1917 ATA National Tennis Championship and reclaimed the title 1918, 1921, and 1924. Holmes also secured several ATA Men’s Doubles championship titles with his partner, Sylvester Smith.  Holmes was clearly the class of the nation at the time, winning the individual championship four times and claiming the doubles crown eight more times.  Holmes died on March 10, 1969 in D.C. at age eighty.

Tally Holmes