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The Library of Virginia and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Celebrate Black History Month

Arthur Robert Ashe
Born: 10 July 1943 in Richmond, Virginia
Died: 6 February 1993 in New York City
Buried: Woodland Cemetery, Richmond

A champion of human dignity around the world, Arthur Robert Ashe overcame the discrimination he faced growing up in Richmond to become a top-ranked tennis player and acclaimed author. Ashe learned tennis from coaches in Richmond and Lynchburg. In spite of being barred from many local and regional tournaments, which excluded African American players, he won national youth titles in 1960 and 1961. A successful collegiate career at UCLA and selection as the first African American player on the U.S. Davis Cup team cemented his status as one of the world’s best amateurs. Ashe won the U.S. Open in 1968 and, after turning professional the following year, thirty-three pro titles, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon. After his retirement from playing, he coached the U.S. Davis Cup team to two titles.

Ashe advanced the rights of blacks in America and throughout the world. His dignified approach to tennis and to life served to rebut negative stereotypes. With forceful rhetoric he decried the conditions faced by many blacks in the United States and protested the apartheid regime in South Africa. Ashe’s interest in education spurred him to write a history of African American athletes, A Hard Road to Glory (1988). A television documentary based on the book won him an Emmy award.

Heart problems forced Ashe to undergo two surgeries, the latter of which required a blood transfusion. Serving as chairman of the American Heart Association in 1981, he added health advocacy to his list of public commitments. When it was revealed that through the transfusion he had acquired HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, he campaigned for those suffering from the disease. His humanitarian legacy has included the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health and the Arthur Ashe Program in AIDS Care.

Because of the bigotry he had experienced, Ashe was long estranged from Richmond and Virginia. Eventually he reestablished ties and created a mentoring program called Virginia Heroes. Richmond honored him with a statue on its Monument Avenue, previously renowned for celebrations of eminent Confederates.

For further information, including a bibliography, see the full biography in John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond, 1998– ), 1:226–228.

Additional reading:
New York Times, 8 Feb. 1993; Sports Illustrated, 15 Feb. 1993.

Arthur Ashe accepting trophy at Fidelity Bankers Invitational tennis tournament, February 16, 1970, from Robert Hart Photograph Collection, Special Collections, Courtesy the Library of Virginia

What can you learn about Arthur Ashe
from looking at this photograph?