Arthur Ashe won three grand slam titles
First African American to achieve feat by winning a slam
Died of AIDS-related illness in 1993 at age 49 as a result of an infected blood transfusion
Stadium field in Flushing Meadows named after him
Editor’s Note: The new DailyExpertNews film “Citizen Ashe” explores the enduring legacy of tennis legend and humanitarian Arthur Ashe. It airs on Sunday, June 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. This article was updated to coincide with the film’s debut.
Tennis hero, inspiring role model for African Americans, social activist and high profile campaigner for the HIV and AIDS communities, Arthur Ashe died in 1993, but it is a measure of his influence that decades later he shines as brightly as ever.
The main stadium field in Flushing Meadows, which hosts the US Open, is named after him, a striking statue of Ashe adorns the grounds, while the Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is a glittering annual bash that kicks off the two weeks before the grand slam final. The season.
Michelle Obama was guest of honor in 2013, while Bradley Cooper, Carmelo Anthony, Justin Bieber and Will Ferrell have been included in an eclectic list of celebrities over the years.
Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy Ashe, has made it her life’s work to ensure the memory of her late husband is preserved for generations and the presidential approval is the icing on the cake.
“It makes me very proud that Arthur is putting his name out there for kids who had no idea who he is,” she told DailyExpertNews’s Open Court program in 2013.
“It was such a great honor. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, just like Mrs. Obama, so sitting here next to her with her daughters was just so much fun.
“And that she is so supportive of the Arthur Ashe Learning Center and so supportive of Arthur’s legacy. I don’t think we could have asked for a better situation that day, it was just amazing.”
Moutoussamy Ashe shared her experiences with former US Davis Cup star James Blake, who retired from the ATP Tour in 2013.
Blake told her that Ashe was his idol and inspiration growing up.
“As an African American who played tennis, his impact on me was huge and I wanted to follow in his footsteps, be someone who went to college and was educated and had such a big impact on the world,” he said.
The impact Blake speaks of extended well beyond the narrow confines of professional sport.
Ashe once famously said “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis achievements” and Moutoussamy Ashe has gone out of her way to promote his wish.
“The tennis game really gave him a platform to talk about the issues he cared about so much,” she said.
“I think he was a role model for a lot of kids, which is why his legacy is so important to promote today.
“We don’t want an entire generation of kids today and generations not to know that he was more than a tennis player.”
Born in 1943, Ashe grew up in the segregated South in Richmond, Virginia, and first tested his tennis skills at a black-only playground in the city.
Developed his talent in high school, he earned a tennis scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1963, becoming the first African American to represent the United States in the Davis Cup that year.
Ashe, a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC), eventually had to serve in the military and spent three years at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant.
Ashe was still a serving officer when he won his first grand slam title at the 1968 US Open, the Open Era’s first to include professionals.
“Not only was he the first African-American man to win the US Open, but he was even the first American period to win the US Open, because the US Open didn’t start until 1968,” emphasizes Moutoussamy Ashe.
Ashe was discharged from the military in 1969 and, after winning his second Grand Slam crown at the 1970 Australian Open, turned professional.
Ashe’s political principles, a prominent supporter of the American civil rights movement, were tested when he was refused a visa by South Africa’s apartheid government to participate in their national open later that year.
Ashe campaigned to exclude South Africa from the International Tennis Federation, but although his demands were not met, he was eventually granted a visa to participate in the 1973 South African Open, the first black man to do so.
Ashe continued to speak out against the apartheid regime and after Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, the tennis star returned to South Africa in 1991 as a member of a 31-member delegation to observe the profound political changes in the country.
He met Mandela several times and modestly remarked: ‘Compared to Mandela’s sacrifice, my own life was almost one of self-indulgence. When I think of him, my own political efforts seem futile.”
But others would disagree. Andrew Young, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, once said of Ashe, “He took the burden of the race and wore it like a cloak of dignity.”
Young, a clergyman turned politician, presided over Ashe’s marriage to Jeanne in 1977 after they met six months earlier at a charity event attended by Moutoussamy Ashe as a working photographer.
Ashe was then a three-time grand slam singles champion, having shocked Jimmy Connors in an epic Wimbledon final in 1975, but it was to prove his last as injury and eventual illness took their toll.
The world was shocked in 1979 when super-fit Ashe had a heart attack and underwent bypass surgery.
He was about to return to the tennis tour when further complications occurred and he was forced to announce his retirement, in a typical demanding way.
“He had about 30 letters that he wrote to people individually, contracts that he had, promises and commitments that he had to people, he just wrote them in person and said, ‘I’m retiring and I want you to be the first to it knows,” recalls Moutoussamy Ashe.
After retirement, he took over as captain of the United States Davis Cup team, but in 1983 he had to undergo second round heart surgery in New York.
During this operation, Ashe is said to have contracted the HIV virus through infected blood transfusions.
He learned of the diagnosis in 1988 after a new health scare, but for the sake of their adopted two-year-old daughter Camera, Ashe and his wife kept the illness a secret.
It wasn’t until 1992 that he was forced to come out and, true to his ideals, began campaigning to debunk myths about AIDS and the way it is contracted.
He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of Aids to build on the work of an institution he had established to promote public health.
Ashe completed his memoir, “Days of Grace,” shortly before his death on February 6, 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia.
For Blake, the book was an inspiration. “As soon as I read ‘Days of Grace’ it was always my answer to what is your all-time favorite book,” he told Moutoussamy Ashe.
Young performed at Ashe’s funeral in Richmond, which was attended by thousands of mourners. He was buried next to his mother, Mattie, who died in 1950 when he was only six years old.
Later in the year he died, Ashe was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
It was the first of a string of high profile awards recognizing a truly remarkable man, but for his widow, who has now carried his torch for so many years, it is his impact on communities and the younger generation that matters so much.
“I think if Arthur were here today, he would be promoting tennis at a grassroots level, using the metaphor that tennis is not just a sport, but more importantly, a profession that might get you a scholarship to help you through school.” .” ,” she said.
Others, like Blake and Mal Washington, have followed in Ashe’s footsteps on the masculine side of the male game, but Moutoussamy Ashe is equally delighted at the impact the Williams sisters have had on African-American sport.
“Venus and Serena, I’m so proud of what they both do. Venus has her challenges, but she moves her life forward and still stays very involved in the game of tennis whenever she can.
“I think Serena is on top form, not just in tennis but as a person at this particular US Open,” she added, reflecting on the world’s No. 1 world’s 17th Grand Slam title in singles.
Moutoussamy Ashe hopes the Arthur Ashe Learning Center, which contains a wealth of her own photographs and memorabilia collected during his lifetime, can find permanent home.
“It is very important that not only the current generation, but future generations understand him as more than just an athlete, as more than just a patient, as more than just a student and a coach.
“That they will understand the importance of being a well-rounded human being, that you may not be a great champion, but if you’re a well-rounded human being then you can do just about anything to succeed in life. †
Ashe himself is the perfect example of that, battling his humble background and an undercurrent of prejudice to achieve the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a person in the United States.
“Racism is no excuse for not trying your best,” Ashe said, eloquently testifying to the truth of his words.