b. July 10, 1942, Richmond, VA
d. Feb. 6, 1993
Ashe began playing tennis seriously when he was ten, under the tutelage of Dr. R. Walter Johnson, a Charlottesville physician who had helped make Althea Gibson the first black tennis champion.
After his junior year in high school, he moved to St. Louis, where he could face stiffer competition. Ashe won four straight American Tennis Association championships, from 1960 through 1963, and in 1965 he was the NCAA tennis champion, representing UCLA.
While serving in the Army in 1968, Ashe became the first black male to win a national title, taking both the first U. S. Open and the U. S. amateur championship. He turned professional after leaving the Army in 1969 and won the 1970 Australian Open. As the culmination of his career, he won the Wimbledon singles title in 1975, the first black male to accomplish that.
Slender at 6-foot-1 and only 158 pounds, Ashe was a graceful yet powerful player who hit hard top-spin ground strokes and had an excellent first serve. He was ranked among the top ten players in the U. S. fifteen times, and eleven times he was in the top three. In 304 singles tournaments, Ashe had 52 victories and was the runner-up 42 times.
A heart attack forced his retirement in 1980. "It's very hard for an athlete to leave center stage," he said. "What do you replace it with?"
Ashe found a great deal to replace it with. Criticized early in his career for not speaking out strongly on racial issues, he became a champion of human rights and spent a great deal of time warning young blacks that education, not sports, should be paramount. He also wrote a newspaper column for the Washington Post and in 1988 he published a three-volume history of blacks in sports, A Hard Road to Glory.
In 1988, he learned that he'd contracted the HIV virus from a transfusion during heart bypass surgery in 1983. The news became public in 1992. After his initial anger at the disclosure, Ashe typically became involved in the anti-AIDS cause, establishing the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and making many appearances in its behalf.
He died of pneumonia, a complication of AIDS. His last newspaper column, which appeared on the day after his death, urged civil rights leaders to work for change in college and professional sports.