Hearing Hidden Voices is a three-part Hear Together series committed to amplifying voices in our community, even when the spotlight has been turned off. Each profile highlights the work of a different Lynchburg native whose tenacity made seminal strides in the fight for inclusion and equality of the Black community in our area — and beyond.
A member of the Tennis Hall of Fame, Dr. Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson was a guiding force in the integration of professional tennis. He ran an elite tennis camp from the court that he built in the backyard of his home in Lynchburg. Every summer, promising African American players from around the country would gather on Dr. J’s court. Two of his students — Hall of Famers Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe — would go on to become the first two African American Grand Slam Champions.
Dr. J’s court sat unused after his death in 1971. In conjunction with the United States Tennis Association, the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation restored the courts for public use a couple years ago. We spoke with Dr. J’s granddaughter, Jolynn Johnson Smith, and her son, Evan Smith, for this Hear Together profile. You can find out more information about Whirlwind Johnsonhere.