Long before the dominating presence of Venus and Serena Williams in the world of tennis, a pair of sisters from Washington, D.C. and Tuskegee University graduates blazed a mighty trail in the sport. Margaret Peters and Matilda Roumania Peters-Walker were clay court legends in their hometown and stars of the all-Black American Tennis Association.
Margaret, born in 1915, and Roumania, born in 1917, grew up in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood. They discovered tennis at Rose Park near their home, and became a fearsome opponent of anyone across the net. Their playing prowess was so exceptional that they drew the attention of the ATA, which invited them to play in the league in 1936. Roumania made it all the finals that year before losing to three-time champion, Lulu Ballard.
Tuskegee University tennis coach Cleve Abbott offered the sisters four-year scholarships to play for the school. In a show of their closeness with each other, Margaret waited a full year to accept while Roumania finished high school and they entered the school in 1937, and graduated in 1941 with degrees in physical education.
Roumania was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tennis champion, and both sisters starred on the school’s basketball team. They continued to play in amateur and national ATA tournaments, but never faced white competitors as the game was still segregated in their heyday. The sisters won an impressive 14 ATA doubles titles, and Roumania won the ATA singles title in 1944 and 1946. Roumania is the only Black woman to have defeated future tennis legend Althea Gibson after winning her second title.
Margaret, who never married, moved to New York and earned a master’s in physical education from New York University. She returned to Washington as a special education teacher and earned a master’s degree in special education from Baltimore’s Coppin State University.