Arthur Robert Ashe was a Black tennis player and human rights activist who became one of the greatest tennis players in American history. To date he is the first and only Black man to win the singles title in three of tennis' Grand Slam events, the U.S. Open (1968), the Australian Open (1970), and Wimbledon (1975) as well as the doubles title in the French Open (1971) and Australian Open (1977). Ashe was also the first Black male player on the U.S. Davis Cup team. He was given the prestigious title of Davis Cup captain. The photograph was taken at the 1971 Richmond Invitational Tennis Tournament at the height of Ashe’s tennis career.
Ashe was born on July 10, 1943 in Richmond, Virginia. He grew up in a segregated community. He banned from playing and practicing on the city's tennis courts, which were only open to white players at that time. Ashe was, however, able to find coaches who were willing to assist in his development as a player, in both Richmond and Lynchburg, Virginia. Although he was banned from competing in many elite tennis competitions that were open to whites only, his talent did not go unseen. After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, Ashe was offered a scholarship to play tennis at the University of California at Los Angeles. Ashe soared in academics and athletics during his time at UCLA. He helped his team win the national championship. After receiving a business degree from UCLA, Ashe joined the U.S Army and served for 2 years while still competing in professional tennis competitions.
As a well-known civil rights activist, Ashe was clear about his opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa which oppressed and suppressed Black South Africans. Ashe’s open criticism of the Apartheid government led to his visa being denied when he applied to play in the 1970 South African Open. This only encouraged him to apply repeatedly for visas and to continue to speak out against apartheid. In 1973, Ashe was granted a visa to travel and play in the South African Open. He promptly won the title in doubles and finished second in the singles division. He would go on to win more championships and use his prominent role in tennis as a means to make social change.
Towards the end of his career Ashe suffered from heart problems. He retired from tennis with an overall record (Open era) of 33 titles. In retirement, Ashe focused his efforts on humanitarian work. He a sponsored an extensive research project resulting in a three-volume history, A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete. Ashe's ongoing heart problems, however, necessitated multiple surgeries, including a blood transfusions. It was from the blood transfusions that Ashe contracted the HIV virus which causes AIDS. The HIV/ AIDS virus was not well known as the time and research was only in the beginning stages. At the time Ashe contracted HIV, it was almost always a death sentence.
Ashe decided to keep his diagnosis private, but felt he had to share it publicly before USA Today ran a story on him having the virus. Following Ashe's announcement, he concentrated his efforts on research and education regarding HIV/AIDS. Ashe left a legacy not only in world of tennis, but also in the creation of Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health which still operates today. He also established the Virginia Heroes program which provides role models and mentors to middle school students in Richmond Public Schools.
Arthur Ashe died on February 6, 1993 in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Flags flew at half-mast and his casket lay in state in the Executive Mansion. To honor his life and legacy, the main stadium at the Untitled States Tennis Center, home the US Open, in New York City is named Arthur Ashe Stadium. In Richmond, a statue is dedicated to him near the Virginia Fine Arts Museum and a major city thoroughfare was re-named Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
Citations: Arthur Ashe—Arthur Ashe at serve, Central Fidelity Bank Invitational Tennis Tournament, 1971 Robert Hart Photograph Collection. Manuscripts & Special Collections, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia. Arthur Ashe. In Virginia Memory. Retrieved From http://www.virginiamemory.com/online_classroom/lesson_plans/arthur_ashe [viewed 2 September 2015]
Kneebone, John T. "Ashe, Arthur Robert." Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1:226-228. John T. Kneebone, J. Jefferson Looney, Brent Tarter, and Sandra Gioia Treadway, editors. Richmond, VA: The Library of Virginia,1998.
Look at It: Look at the photograph, what is happening in the image? Why might have this event been important?
Analyze: How did Arthur Ashe leverage his popularity to become a voice for civil rights and early HIV/AIDS research? What other skills did he have which may have been relevant to his success? Explain.
Current Connections: HIV/AIDS is a virus that was not well understood in the early 1990’s. Considering the recent Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, has our collective understanding of how viruses operate changed? Why is more research needed to address viruses like HIV still needed? Explain.
Social Media Spin: create a social media to describe the drama and excitement of this photo. Use detail from events in Ashe’s life in the post.