Chip Lauterbach, Contributing Writer
Richmond City Council approved a measure in an 8-0-1 vote Tuesday that will rename Boulevard to Arthur Ashe Boulevard — an homage to the tennis legend, philanthropist and Richmond native.
Arthur Ashe Jr. was born in Richmond in 1943. He was the first black tennis player to represent the U.S. in the Davis Cup. He remains the only black man to win the U.S. Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon. Ashe died at 49 when he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion and died from AIDS-related pneumonia.
A statue of Ashe was erected in 1996 and an athletic center in the area is also named after him. Both are on the Boulevard.
Eighth-district councilperson Reva Trammell was the only member who did not vote for the measure — she abstained.
A line of spectators at the meeting spilled out into the hallway — most of them wanted to voice support. Among those in support and thrilled with the outcome of the historic vote was David Harris Jr., Ashe’s nephew.
“He was not just an athlete, he stood up against apartheid and was an early advocate for those afflicted with HIV,” Harris said. “He stood for what was right.”
Among those who spoke in opposition to the measure were residents who live on and near Boulevard. Some said they were not against renaming Boulevard after Ashe, but wanted Council to defer the issue to the city’s History and Culture Commission. Others felt the issue should have been decided by a petition instead of a Council vote.
“No one here tonight in opposition wanted to stop the city from honoring Arthur Ashe,” said Janet Brown, a Boulevard resident. “We just wanted the City Council to do it the right way, the way it was supposed to be done through the system.”
Certain supporters mentioned the vote’s timing, as race-related scandals have rocked the capital in recent weeks. A speaker, who identified herself as Melissa Ferell, said passing the resolution would move the city forward.
“I was so happy when I first heard about the proposal. I have lived in Richmond for 50 years, and the last 12 were on the Boulevard, and I can’t wait to write my new street address,” Ferell said. “It is one of the best steps the city has taken in recent memory.”
The passage of the measure relieved second-district councilperson Kim Gray, who sponsored it for the third time. The previous two attempts had been delayed in the chamber.
“I want to thank all of my colleagues, and especially Mayor Levar Stoney,” Gray said. “This is a remarkable time.”
Arthur Ashe Boulevard will end at Byrd Park, next to the location of tennis courts that were once off limits to Ashe because of the color of his skin.