Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe was a twentieth century famous African American tennis player. He is considered the world’s number one tennis player after he won three Grand Slam titles. He was the first black man to be selected for the United States Davis Cup team and won the singles title at Wimbledon.

On July 10, 1943, Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. was born to Arthur Ashe Sr. and Mattie Cordell, in Richmond, Virginia. His mother died of pregnancy complications, when Ashe and his brother were quite young. Therefore, the responsibility of raising them fell on their father, who happened to be a handyman and Special Policeman. Ashe Senior was a responsible, caring and also a strict father. It was he who inculcated discipline in Ashe and encouraged him to excel both in studies and sports. Due to Ashe’s slight build Arthur forbade him to play football, then a popular sport among other African Americans. Fortunately, Ashe had a black-only playground in his neighborhood to play tennis. He started playing tennis at the age of 7 and his true potential was seen by Brookfield tennis instructor, Ron Charity, who then taught him basics and encouraged him to play professionally.

When Ashe was enrolled at Maggie L. Walker High School, he continued to practice tennis. Ron introduced him to Robert Walter Johnson who funded and coached the Junior Development Program of the American Tennis Association. Johnson help Ashe polish his skills and taught him the importance of racial socialization through sportsmanship and etiquettes and how it will reflect on future career. In 1958, Ashe made it to the Maryland boys’ championships, thus becoming the first African American to participate in the championship. He was not allowed to compete against whites and to play at indoors school court, in segregated Richmond, in 1960. Upon a St. Louis’ tennis coach Richard Hudlin’s offer, Ashe moved there and joined Sumner High School where he was not prohibited from playing. Also after Dr. Johnson’s support he was allowed to compete in U.S. Interscholastic tournament and won it.

Subsequent to winning the National Junior Indoor tennis title, Ashe had been able to garner a tennis scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles. As he became member of The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, he was required to join active military service upon graduation. After attaining bachelors in Business Administration, Ashe joined the United States Army. He became a second lieutenant in the Adjutant General Corps and later worked as a data processor at the United States Military Academy. In 1968 he was positioned first lieutenant and a year after he was discharged from the army.

In 1968, Ashe competed in the United States Amateur Championships and won the tournament and the first US Open. He then earned the title of being the first black male player to have won both the amateur and open national championships in the span of a year. Shortly after, he won his second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open and again made a record of being the first non-Australian to be victorious since 1959. Ashe continued to play and won several other titles for his country and became a celebrated player.

Ashe took retirement in 1980 when he had a heart bypass surgery and tragically contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation to spread awareness about AIDS. In 1993, he died of AIDS-related pneumonia. In his honor, former President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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