Black History Month: Arthur Ashe

Brittani Langland

By Danial Syed

From humble beginnings, tennis player Arthur Ashe earned worldwide renown. Born in 1943, he was forbidden from playing football (his father thought he was too skinny), so he took to tennis instead. Ashe originally attended a segregated school in Richmond, Virginia; however, few of his friends were interested in tennis, so Ashe would often walk long distances to play with Caucasians. Because of this hassle, Ashe accepted an offer from a tennis official in St. Louis—he moved there and started attending Sumner High School. There, he achieved widespread recognition for his skills (even making it into Sports Illustrated) and received a tennis scholarship to UCLA.

As part of his involvement in the ROTC program, Ashe entered military service in 1966. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, and later worked as a data processor at West Point: there, he headed the academy’s tennis program.

Simply put, Ashe had a highly successful tennis career. He was the first African American player on the United States Davis Cup team. Additionally, he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s 1965 singles title, and placed first at countless other tournaments.

However, Ashe wasn’t able to compete in the South African Open. He was denied a visa by the South African government; in response, Ashe worked to spread increasing awareness of apartheid.

Despite his good health, Ashe suffered from a heart attack in 1979. During his treatment, he received blood transfusions, the second of which is thought to have given him HIV. In his final years, Ashe worked to raise awareness about AIDS. He started the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. He also founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban health to help address health care issues—two months before his death. He finished his memoir, Days of Grace, less than a week before his death In 1993.

Ashe was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the year in 1992—needless to say, he was a highly influential individual. He remains the only African American man to have won the singles title at the Wimbledon tournament, the US Open, and the Australian Open. His legacy and reputation, truly, will live on for ages to come.

All images used legally by/from AP Images

arthur ashe