Biography Of Arthur Ashe

Biography of Arthur Ashe who broke down the color barriers by becoming the first African-American to ever compete and win many top ranked tournaments.

Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Mattie and Arthur Ashe, Sr. on July 10, 1943. He spent his young life reading and listening to music with his mother, Mattie, whom he adored.

Ashe began playing tennis at Brookfield Park in Richmond at the age of seven, after his mother died of complications from surgery. With grace and natural movements, three years later he attracted the attention of part-time tennis coach, Ronald Charity. Impressed by the potential he saw in Ashe, Charity made arrangements for Ashe to spend a summer at Dr. Walter Johnson's home in Lynchburg. Johnson had previously coached tennis great, Althea Gibson, and was eager to work with the young Ashe. After just one summer, Johnson agreed to become 10-year old Arthur Ashe's mentor, and the two began working non-stop to make Ashe the best tennis player in the world. In 1957, Ashe earned his first big victory as he became the first African American to ever play in the Maryland boy's championships.

After spending several years traveling from Richmond to tennis tournaments outside his segregated neighborhood, Ashe tired of the commute and accepted an offer from St. Louis tennis coach, Richard Hudlin, to move into his home. Ashe enrolled in Sumner High School for his senior year, and continued to work diligently at improving his tennis game.

Arthur Ashe entered the University of California at Los Angeles on a tennis scholarship the following year. In 1963, he won the U.S. hard-court singles championship and became the first African American player to ever be named to the U.S. Davis Cup team. The win garnered Ashe some attention in the athletic world, as SI's "Faces in the Crowd" featured him for the second time on their cover. Just two years later, Ashe captured the intercollegiate singles and doubles titles, and won the NCAA men's singles championship, leading UCLA to the team title.

Ashe graduated from UCLA with a degree in business administration in the spring of 1966. At the time, he was also serving as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve. He continued to play on the amateur circuit following graduation, and in September of 1968, defeated Tom Okker to win the U.S. Open. He was, and still is, the only African American man to ever hold the title. That same year, determined to do more with his life than play tennis, Ashe helped create the USTA National Junior Tennis League, an inner-city program designed to encourage young athletes.

In 1970, Arthur Ashe was a household name, and fans cheered him on in all countries. Ashe easily won the Australian Open that year, and chose to use his new status as a platform for social issues. Appalled by South Africa's apartheid system of government, Ashe first called for the nation to be expelled from the International Lawn Tennis Federation. The call was immediately granted, and America took note of Ashe's powerful voice and personal opinions. Over the next several months, Ashe spoke publicly of his views on racial policy. As a result, South Africa was also excluded from Davis Cup competition. Immediately following the exclusion, Ashe requested a visa to travel to South Africa, but his application was fervently denied.

In a well publicized match, Ashe defeated popular player, Jimmy Conners, and went on to win the Wimbledon singles title on July 5, 1975. The victory made Ashe the only black man to ever participate and win the world's most prestigious grass-court tournament. After taking home the title at the World Championship singles later that year, Ashe was ranked first in the world of tennis.

In February of 1977, Ashe's career took a back seat for the first time in his life, as he stepped away from tennis to marry longtime sweetheart, Jeanne Moutoussamy. The two settled in to their new life and made plans to start a family. Ashe began to spend more and more time writing and speaking, and those in the tennis industry feared he was contemplating retirement.

Ashe suffered a heart attack while participating in a New York tennis clinic in 1979. He was hospitalized for 10 days before returning to the circuit. After repeatedly suffering chest pains during workouts, Ashe made the decision to retire from tennis, and stepped down in 1980. Almost immediately, Ashe accepts position with the U.S. Davis Cup team, where he served as captain for the next five years. On retirement, Ashe's professional record included 818 wins and 51 titles.

Criticized throughout much of his career for not speaking out more about racial issues affecting U.S. citizens, Ashe began to use his retirement as a platform to help educate the nation. He quickly signed on to serve as national chairman of the American Heart Association, become an activist against South African government forces, and used his time to help teach young children about the game of tennis. Ashe was also hired as a commentator for HBO and ABC Sports events and became a columnist for The Washing Post and Tennis Magazine. He worked diligently over the next two years, suffering with continuing heart trouble. In 1983, doctors tell him he can wait no longer. He must have double bypass surgery. Ashe has the operation the following day. Upon waking, Ashe is given a blood transfusion, after complaining of weakness.

Fresh from surgery, Ashe headed back to work, eager to continue with his mission. He is voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. in 1985, and continued his speaking engagements. In December of 1986, Arthur and his wife gave birth to daughter, Camera, in New York.

Finished with most major committment by this time, Ashe settled in as father figure, and became more determined than ever to make his voice heard. At home with his young daughter, Ashe began writing a three-volume history of African American athletes who hailed from the U.S. Just as his book went put to print in 1988, Ashe admitted himself to the hospital, after suffering numbness in his right hand. Tests show he has toxoplasmosis, a bacterial infection often present in HIV positive patients. Further tests reveal that Ashe is HIV-positive. Ashe is told that he most likely received tainted blood during his 1983 transfusion.

Four years later, after believing the USA Today was about to reveal his health status, Ashe called an impromptu press conference, and announced to the world that he was HIV positive. Ashe's diagnosis is met with compassion by fellow athletes, journalists and friends. With his friends and family rallying around him, Ashe dedicated the remainder of his life to AIDS education. He spoke in schools and neighborhoods, at sporting events, and addressed the United Nations General Assembly on World AIDS Day in 1992.

On February 6, 1993, Arthur Ashe dies of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York. Arthur Ashe was 49 years old.

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