African-American tennis legend Arthur Ashe (pictured) passed away today in 1993, after complications that arose from AIDS-related pneumonia. As one of the sport’s most-celebrated names, Ashe still stands today as an iconic figure in the world of tennis. Beyond the game, Ashe was also an avid champion of civil rights and used his fame to promote social causes that were dear to him.
Born Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. on July 10, 1943, the future star athlete was born and raised in Richmond, Va. Discovering tennis as a youth, physician Robert Walter Johnson (who coached both Ashe and fellow tennis hall of famer Althea Gibson) served as a mentor. After attending high school in St. Louis, Ashe received an athletic scholarship to UCLA in 1963. During that year, Ashe was the first Black player to be elected to the U.S. Davis Cup team.
Winning his first Grand Slam title, the U.S. Open, in 1968, he became the first and only Black man to ever win the title. In 1970, he followed that win by capturing the Australian Open crown. The year 1975 would be the last time Ashe would capture a Grand Slam, besting tennis great Jimmy Connors in the match. To date, French player Yannick Noah and Ashe are the only Black men to win Grand Slam titles; Noah (father of Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah) won the French Open in 1983.
After suffering a heart attack in 1979, Ashe eventually retired from the game in 1980. In 1983, Ashe underwent a second surgery to correct the bypass work done before. In 1988, Ashe fell ill and discovered that he had contracted HIV by way of blood transfusions done during his second surgery. Ashe and his wife, photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, went public with the announcement regarding his frail state of health in 1992, ahead of a newspaper report that made mentioned his physical appearance.
Ashe was able to establish Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health just before his death. Located in Brooklyn, the organization’s main aim is to challenge and eliminate health disparities, primarily those in African-American communities nationwide.
A supporter of social justice, Ashe was arrested in 1985 in an anti-apartheid protest rally outside the South African embassy in Washington. Ashe was arrested again in 1992 outside the White House for protests regarding the banning of Haitian refugees by then-President George W. Bush.
Ashe spent the last years of his life penning his memoir, “Days Of Grace.” He and his wife have one daughter, Camera, whose name was inspired by her mother’s profession. At the USTA National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open is held, the Arthur Ashe Stadium was opened in 1997 in honor of the legend. It stands as the largest outdoor tennis-only venue in the world.
Ashe broke many barriers during his time on the court and helped promote many important issues beyond tennis. His impact on the game and the world is still felt by many. Ashe’s valuable contributions to both tennis and HIV/AIDS awareness continue to pay dividends to this day.