Biography

As a child growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, Arthur’s physical stature did little to indicate his future career as a professional athlete. "Skinny as a straw," Arthur derived countless hours of pleasure reading and listening to music with his mother, Mattie. He also showed a surprising flair for tennis from the first time he picked up a racquet. At the age of six, Mattie passed away suddenly. Though heartbroken, Arthur’s memory of his beloved mother was a source of inspiration throughout his life.

Upon graduation from high school, Arthur was good enough to earn a tennis scholarship to UCLA. It was at UCLA that Arthur earned recognition for his tennis abilities on a national level, culminating with an individual and team NCAA championship in 1965. He was also growing as a person as well, graduating in 1966 with a BA in Business Administration.

Ashe was selected in 1963 to represent the United States in Davis Cup play, an honor in which he took great pride. In doing so, he also became the first African-American to be selected to play for the United States team. In actuality, Arthur Ashe was a trailblazer for African-American males in tennis every time he succeeded on the court, in much the same fashion as Althea Gibson had for African-American females some 10 years earlier. The relevancy of these accomplishments was not lost on Ashe. His determination to succeed despite being an outcast in a historically white sport was put to an even greater test in 1969.

In a year (1969) when he was basking in the international fame he had gained the previous year after winning the US Open and playing a key role on the United States winning Davis Cup team, two separate issues came to the forefront and helped shape Arthur the activist, a role he never ran from throughout his life if he believed in the cause. At a time when tennis’ popularity was growing by leaps and bounds, the amount of prize money being offered to the players, the "drawing cards," was lagging disproportionately behind. Ashe and several other players formed in 1969, what later became known as the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals). It is from this small and visionary beginning that today's top players enjoy the large sums of prize money for which they compete. Later that year, as the #1-ranked American and one of the best players in the world, Arthur applied for a visa to play in the South African Open, a prestigious event. His visa was denied because of the color of his skin. Though Arthur was well aware that this would probably be the case, he decided to take a bold stand. His call for expulsion from South Africa from the tennis tour and Davis Cup play was quickly supported by numerous prominent individuals and organizations, both in and out of the tennis world. In effect, he raised the world’s awareness to the oppressive form of government (apartheid) of South Africa. Buoyed by Arthur Ashe’s initial efforts, blacks in South Africa slowly but surely began to see change come about in their country.

As a tennis player, Arthur Ashe was one of the most prominent players of his time; an all-out competitor who rarely beat himself. His legacy, however, will be the positive changes he helped bring about and the causes he championed, both within tennis and in society as a whole. Always at his best he was for many the very definition of tennis, yet tennis never defined Arthur Ashe.

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