Black History Month Legends: Arthur Ashe

E.J. Crawford | February 13, 2017

Arthur Ashe remains, to this day, one of the most revered athletes in the history of sport. His accomplishments are legend, his enduring legacy one of integrity, dignity, grace and class.


Ashe was a champion, and a great one at that. He was the first African-American to win the NCAA singles title (for UCLA in 1975) and his professional career featured 33 titles, including the 1968 US Open, the 1970 Australian Open and 1975 Wimbledon. He also won Davis Cup titles for the U.S. both as a player (1968-70) and captain (1981-82).


He also was also a distinguished humanitarian, his memory best preserved by his accomplishments off the court. Throughout his life Ashe worked tirelessly to eliminate racism and poverty around the world, and he poured that same time, energy and care into creating tennis opportunities for youngsters from all backgrounds.


In 1969, he co-founded the now-named National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network with Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder, envisioning it “as a way to gain and hold the attention of young people in the inner cities and other poor environments so that we can teach them about matters more important than tennis.” In the ensuing 45 years, the program has grown to more than 600 chapters serving more than 250,000 youths each year.


After brain surgery in 1985, Ashe learned that he was HIV positive, having likely contracted the infection during either of two heart surgeries he underwent in 1979 or 1983. The diagnosis, however, only steeled his resolve. Ashe addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1992, urging increased funding for AIDS research, and he also started the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health to bring programs to the inner city to educate and promote better health care.


Ashe died in 1993 at the age of 49. His legacy lives on in his foundations and in his work – and in the hearts and minds of the thousands he reached and the millions he touched.


The annual kids’ day celebration that kicks off the US Open bears his name, as does the stadium that is the Open's centerpiece. And in 2000, the USTA dedicated the Arthur Ashe Commemorative Garden at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The garden features the statue “Soul in Flight” as well as an engraving of Ashe’s quote, “From what we get, we make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”


“Arthur’s great legacy is in the amount of work he was able to achieve while he was on earth, and the significance of the impact of what he achieved while he was alive,” said Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe. “His legacy is worth continuing, if for no other reason than to inspire young people who aspire to take on meaningful work in their own lives.


“Whether that means using athletics as a platform for moving their education forward by achieving college scholarships or however they decide to make a difference in the world – I think Arthur’s example is stellar. It continues to inspire me on a daily basis.”


Nicholas J. Walz contributed reporting to this story.



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