Change-maker in black history: Arthur Ashe

Last week we told you about the tennis powerhouse duo, the Williams Sisters, who have been overhead-smashing their way up the ranks of elite world tennis players. Long before the pair hit the tennis scene, Arthur Ashe paved the way for them, as the first African American selected to the US Davis Cup Team in 1963.

Ashe was born on July 10th, 1943 and raised in the segregated South. He went on to become the first ever African-American tennis player to win a grand slam tournament. After graduating from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he attended on a tennis scholarship, he joined the Davis Cup team and in 1968 he won the men’s championships at the inaugural US Open tournament.

He turned professional in 1969 and soon after won the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975, defeating the expected-winner, tennis great Jimmy Connors.

To this day he remains the only African American player ever to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon, the US Open, or the Australian Open.

Ashe made history off the court too. He was a key participant in the UN’s Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid Conference and while protesting apartheid in South Africa during the 70’s, he was a granted a visa in 1973 to become the first black professional to play in the country.

His career was cut short when he suffered a heart attack in 1979, but Ashe didn’t let that stop him from contributing to the world of sports. After his retirement he wrote a history of African-American athletes, A Hard Road to Glory.

Ashe suffered another setback when he contracted the AIDS virus after receiving a blood transfusion. He turned the devastating news into a production campaign on AIDS education. Sadly, he died from complications from AIDS in February, 1993.

On what would have been Arthur’s 53rd birthday in 1996, a statue of him was dedicated in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia on Monument Avenue. Before this time, Monument Avenue only commemorated Confederate war heroes and growing up Ashe wasn’t able to visit the Monument Avenue because he was black.

His legacy also lives on at the USTA’s National Tennis Center, named Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Below, check out a tribute to Arthur Ashe with commentary by other change-makers in black history.