Arthur Ashe, an athlete with character
Arthur Ashe was born on this date in 1943. He was an African American tennis player, author, activist and the first Black man to win a major tennis tournament.
Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., was born in Richmond, Virginia. At age ten he began to play tennis under the direction of Dr. Walter Johnson, who taught 1957 Wimbledon women's champion, Althea Gibson. Ashe went on to attend the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1963, he became the first African American to play on the Davis Cup national tennis team, and won the U.S. intercollegiate singles championship. After graduating from UCLA in 1966 with a degree in business administration, Ashe was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve.
In 1968, the major tennis tournaments opened their competitions to professionals, but Ashe remained an amateur because of his military status. At the U.S. Open that year he defeated several professional players and won the men's singles title. Ashe is the only amateur ever to win the U.S. amateur championship and U.S. Open titles during the same year. In 1969, Ashe joined the professional tennis circuit; he and several other players formed the group that became the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body that oversees rankings, prize money, and international tennis events.
His best season came in 1975, when he beat Jimmy Connors for the Wimbledon singles title and attained the number-one ranking in the United States. Ashe also won doubles championships at the French Open in 1971 and at the Australian Open in 1977. Ashe remains the only African American player ever to win the men's singles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, or Australian Open. He is one of only two men of black African ancestry to win a Grand Slam singles title (the other being France's Yannick Noah, who won the French Open in 1983).
Ashe survived heart surgery in 1979 and announced his retirement from competition a year later. He then served as non-playing captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team and became involved in various charitable and youth-oriented activities such as the National Junior Tennis League and the ABC Cities Tennis Program.
During a second heart surgery in 1983, it is likely that Ashe was given blood tainted with HIV, which causes AIDS. After acknowledging his disease, he became an active fund raiser and speaker on behalf of AIDS research. Ashe wrote "A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the Afro-American Athlete and Days of Grace." Ashe died February 6, 1993. He was one of the more remarkable figures in U.S. sports. His exceptional abilities on the tennis court.
In 1997, the U.S. Tennis Center's main stadium in New York City was named after him in honor of his many contributions to the game. The Arthur Ashe Courage Award was established to honor Ashe; although it is sports oriented, it is not limited to sports.
African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.
Today in American History