Sylvester B. Smith, DDS, Tennis Champion

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

Dr. Sylvester B. Smith (1900-1969) was born on May 6, 1900 in Detroit, Michigan.

Sylvester Smith (left) with Tally Holmes

There's no information regarding his early life and how he gained interest in playing tennis, but in 1919, he was a National Men's Singles Tennis champion of the American Tennis Association, the oldest African American organization in the United States.

NOTE: Due to racial segregation, the ATA was founded in 1916, and held their first ATA National Championships at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, Maryland in August 1917. The championships were hosted by the Monumental Tennis Club and had three events: Men's Singles (won by Tally Holmes, Women's Singles (won by Lucy Slowe), and Men's Doubles (won by Holmes and Sylvester).

From 1917-1929, he was a co-holder of the National Men's Doubles championships with his teammate Tally Holmes. He was the winner of several State and Sectional Singles and Doubles champion ships from 1917 to 1945.

Fun Fact #1: In 1921, Dwight F. Davis, donor of the Davis Cup and former Secretary of War in the administration of President Calvin Coolidge, umpired the semifinal match between Holmes and Sylvester at the ATA nationals. Davis expressed "his surprise and delight at the excellent playing he witnessed."

He became president of the American Tennis Association. He, along with assistant executive secretary Arthur E. Francis and executive secretary Bertram L. Baker, held conferences with Dr. S. Ellsworth Davenport, Jr. and Alrick H Man, Jr. to have qualified back players in the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) tournaments. As a result, on the year 1950, a black player participated in the USLTA National Championships at Forest Hill.

During his tennis career, he earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery from Howard University School of Dentistry in 1924. He worked at the Freedman's Hospital after graduation until he moved to Ambler to open his office in January 1926, where he continued his practice until his death.


"Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania." Historical Society of Montgomery County 17, no. 3 (1970): 139-141.

Djata, Sundiata. Blacks at the Net: Black Achievement in the History of Tennis, Volume 1. (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2006): 4, 15.

"Ex-Tennis Champion and Philadelphia Dentist Dies." Jets. October 30, 1969: 61.

Miller, Carroll L.L. and Anne S. Pruitt-Logan. Faithful to the Task at Hand: The Life of Lucy Diggs Slowe. (Albany: SUNY Press, 2012): 73.

Separate Games: African American Sport behind the Walls of Segregation. Edited by David K. Wiggins and Ryan A. Swanson. (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2016): 174.

"Breaking the Barriers: The ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers." International Tennis Hall of Fame. Accessed May 25, 2020.

#pahistory #ambler #dentistry #dental #HowardU #HU #howarduniversty #tennis #ATA #mensdoubles #menssingles #championship #africanamerican

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