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Arthur Robert Ashe (1943 - 1993)

Ashe, Arthur_07_0034_0204.jpg




Tennis Player, Writer, and Humanitarian


A champion of human dignity around the world, Arthur Robert Ashe (July 10, 1943-February 6, 1993) overcame the discrimination he faced growing up in Richmond to become a top-ranked tennis player and acclaimed author. Ashe learned tennis from coaches in Richmond and Lynchburg. In spite of being barred from many local and regional tournaments, which excluded African American players, he won national youth titles in 1960 and 1961. A successful collegiate career at UCLA and selection as the first African American player on the U.S. Davis Cup team cemented his status as one of the world’s best amateurs. Ashe won the U.S. Open in 1968 and, after turning professional the following year, thirty-three pro titles, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon. After his retirement from playing, he coached the U.S. Davis Cup team to two titles.

Ashe advanced the rights of blacks in America and throughout the world. His dignified approach to tennis and to life served to rebut negative stereotypes. With forceful rhetoric he decried the conditions faced by many blacks in the United States and protested the apartheid regime in South Africa. Ashe’s interest in education spurred him to write a history of African American athletes, A Hard Road to Glory (1988). A television documentary based on the book won him an Emmy award.

Heart problems forced Ashe to undergo two surgeries, the latter of which required a blood transfusion. Serving as chairman of the American Heart Association in 1981, he added health advocacy to his list of public commitments. When it was revealed that through the transfusion he had acquired HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, he campaigned for those suffering from the disease. His humanitarian legacy has included the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health and the Arthur Ashe Program in AIDS Care.

Because of the bigotry he had experienced, Ashe was long estranged from Richmond and Virginia. Eventually he reestablished ties and created a mentoring program called Virginia Heroes. Richmond honored him with a statue on its Monument Avenue, previously renowned for celebrations of eminent Confederates.

2007 African American Trailblazers honoree, Library of Virginia.

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Image Courtesy of the Library of Virginia.