Arthur Ashe, athlete and activist
With its white roof silhouetted against the New York skyline, Arthur Ashe Stadium, cathedral of tennis and home of the US Open, has hosted some of the game’s greatest moments for 25 years, while honoring the one of America’s greatest athletes, Arthur Ashe.
“Any name could have been put on this stadium, but they used a name that was about inclusion,” said Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Arthur’s wife. She was at the opening of the stadium that bears the name of her late husband, twenty-five years ago.
CBS Sports commentator Jim Brown asked him, “The luminaries from around the world who showed up tell you what?”
“Everyone who was here that night got to see Desmond Tutu,” she replied. “It was an opportunity that the name and the event presented to everyone who was here. And it’s so telling of who Arthur was.”
And Arthur Ashe was more than a tennis player. Born in remote Richmond, Virginia, he was the first black man to win the US Open, in 1968, followed by historic triumphs at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
He was married to Jeanne from 1977 until his death in 1993 from complications of AIDS, which he allegedly contracted following a blood transfusion during a heart operation. Moutoussamy-Ashe said she was not just married to a world famous athlete, but an activist who used his racket and his voice.
In 1965, when asked by Charles Kuralt of CBS News, “Are there still country clubs in this country where you would not be welcome?” Ashe replied, “Oh yeah, there are tournaments where I can’t play, like in Alabama.”
With his fame, he spoke out on race relations and inequality. He said “Face the Nation”, “In these times, 1968, it’s really a mandate that you do something. You have to.”
Ashe’s activism mimicked her tennis game – methodical, strategic, nuanced, yet impactful. “I think what he may have had under his skin was that he didn’t feel he was doing enough,” Moutoussamy-Ashe said.
“Not to do more, that is to say? »
“There were African Americans marching, getting their heads beaten, getting sprayed. Arthur didn’t do that. But he always felt that what he was doing was opening doors in his path.”
Opening doors meant getting arrested for protesting apartheid in South Africa; be a voice for AIDS awareness; and the creation of the National Junior Tennis League in 1969, which continues to bring the game to underserved communities.
But for Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, who is an award-winning photographer, and Arthur, it all came down to one thing: “We often talked about how the public perceives the African-American image. The only image we would see would be of how others saw us, not images of how we saw ourselves.
“One of the reasons I do photography is to photograph my community, to photograph the love and dignity that Arthur saw from an early date. The image was a profound way to show our activism together as that torque.”
With his name and image adorned on the stadium walls, Arthur Ashe’s legacy lives on.
Moutoussamy-Ashe said, “What I want you to know is who Arthur Ashe was and why Arthur Ashe’s name is on this magnificent structure.”
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Story produced by Sharaf Mowjood. Publisher: Carol Ross.