"A tennis player who went well beyond the game, Arthur upheld the qualities that distinguished him as a champion: he showed that it was possible to compete ferociously while maintaining personal honor and sportsmanship."--Bud Collins
Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. was born on July, 10, 1943 in Richmond, Virginia. As child growing up in segregated Richmond, his physical stature did little to indicate his future as a professional athlete. He showed surprising promise in tennis the first time he picked up a racket. But since racial segregation was the law in Richmond during his childhood and early youth, he could not play in the usual junior tournaments. With the aid of physician, Dr. Walter Johnson (who also helped Althea Gibson), Ashe finished high school in St. Louis, where he received the necessary tennis competition he could not get in Richmond. Under Johnson's guidance Ashe flourished in the American Tennis Association, (the governing black tennis body) winning multiple titles. In 1960 he made his first mark on the white tennis world when he won the Junior Indoors at the USTLA Nationals. That year he also became the first black member of the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team.
Upon graduating high school Ashe earned a tennis scholarship to UCLA. At UCLA he gained national recognition for his tennis achievements including an individual and team NCAA championship in 1965. His success was further evident when in that same he was named to the U.S. Davis Cup team--another first for an African American. Three years later he would go on to set another record, winning both the U.S. Amateur and Open Championships, the first time and last time that has happened. As a player, it took Ashe a while to harness his power and become comfortable on all playing surfaces. He would go on to win 35 amateur singles titles. And by the time his professional career was over, he had won 33 singles titles, including the 1970 Austrailian and the unexpected 1975 Wimbledon title. He was in the World Top Ten for 12 years and was No. 1 in 1968 and 1975. His career ended prematurely, however, when he suffered a heart attack in 1979. He was one of the founders of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals and served on numerous corporate boards and received several honorary degrees. In 1992 he revealed that he'd contracted the AIDS virus through a 1988 blood transfusion. He would pass away one year later, but not before leaving his mark socially as well.
Arthur Ashe's legend trandscends the game of tennis and into society as a whole. His activist spirit was evident throughout his career when in 1969 he called for South Africa's expulsion from the tennis tour and Davis Cup play for its apartheid policy. His call raised awareness of the apartheid government in South Africa and he was quickly supported by numerous prominent individuals and organizations, both within and outside of the tennis world. He was after several refusals, granted a visa to visit the country and became the first black to win a title there. He returned to South Africa again after the overturning of apartheid and met with president Nelon Mandela.
Ashe also lent himself to other causes as well. He was arrested shortly before his death in a protest against U.S. policies toward Haitian refugees. His main cause was in fostering education for needy children and he leading figure in the establishment of the Safe Passage Foundation, an organization for that purpose. He is also described as a "warrior" in the fight against AIDS. After publicly annoucning that he had AIDS, he founded the AAFDA. He passed away in February of 1993, having raised public awareness of AIDS to a level that it had never before reached.