Richmond’s History Makers: Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe grew up in segregated Richmond. At the age of 6, his mother passed away. Although she was no longer with him, she continued to be a source of inspiration throughout Ashe’s life. He earned a tennis scholarship to UCLA upon graduating from high school. Ashe’s abilities shined as he won an individual and team NCAA championship in 1965. He graduated in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In 1963, Ashe was selected as the first African-American to represent the United States in the Davis Cup. He was the No. 1 ranked American and one of the best players in the world in 1969. Ashe applied for a visa to play in the South African Open, but it was denied because he was black. This outraged Ashe so he called for the expulsion of South Africa from the tennis tour and Davis Cup play.

His bold move was supported by prominent individuals and organizations and it brought global attention to the oppressive government. Ashe retired from tennis in 1980 after three Grand Slam singles titles and more than 800 career victories.

Ashe was a commentator for HBO Sports and ABC Sports. He was also elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. While in the hospital for brain surgery, Ashe learned he was HIV-positive, most certainly from his 1983 heart surgery. The tennis star kept his illness a secret until 1992 during a scheduled press conference. His courage helped raise AIDS awareness and lower paranoia. Ashe died Feb. 6, 1993. A statue honoring his life reside on Monument Avenue.

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