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59 LIKE NO OTHER LLendward “Lenny” Simpson Jr., 66, grew up on Ann Street in Wilmington. Around the corner at 14th and Orange streets lived Dr. Hubert Eaton. The Eatons and Simpsons were family friends. Eaton was a successful doctor whose house sat on four acres and boasted a swimming pool, private tennis court and a three-car garage. Nathaniel Jackson lived beside the Simpsons and played tennis at Eaton’s home. “Everybody in the neighborhood would go to Dr. Eaton’s court because that was like the open place to go,” Simpson says. “Everybody used to gather there, no matter what color you were. It was known as the black country club for us, because we certainly couldn’t belong anywhere else. That was crucial. I probably would have never played tennis if that tennis court had not been there, because that was the only opportunity I had to play.” As a 5-year-old in 1953, Simpson says, “Every day I watched Mr. Jackson walk down the sidewalk, turn right and disappear. Then I’d see him come back a little later, drinking a Coca-Cola. One day, I finally got up enough nerve to ask him, ‘Mr. Jackson, where did you get that Coca-Cola?’ He said, ‘Well, I got it from the tennis court where I play. Would you like to learn to play tennis?’ ‘What tennis court?’ Simpson replied. ‘The tennis court behind your house. Do you want to learn?’ Jackson answered. ‘Well, yeah, but how’d you get that Coke?’” Simpson said. Jackson took Simpson to see Eaton’s tennis court and told his mother that her son wanted to learn how to play. Simpson’s mother didn’t want her young son bothering the adults at Eaton’s home. “He’s just going to be in the way,” she said. Jackson pressed this issue, but the answer was still “no.” So, Simpson slipped over the field between the adjoin-ing www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM yards, hid under the bushes along the fence and watched. There he saw Jackson playing against Eaton with people watching along the sidelines. He also saw a woman play. “She was beating everybody — men, women, young and old,” Simpson says. It was Althea Gibson, Dr. Eaton’s ward. Above: Dr. Hubert Eaton, left, and Lenny Simpson, right, after the 1963 ATA National Championship at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Simpson placed first in the junior tournament. Opposite: Lenny Simpson encourages one of his students, Kenneth Braxton, during a class at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in downtown Wilmington. HISTORIC PHOTOS AND NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS COURTESY OF LENDWARD SIMPSON


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