Born July 10, 1943, Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr, is the first African-American to rise and compete in international tennis. He began to play tennis at the age of six, receiving tennis lessons from R. Walter Johnson, a doctor who regularly opened his home to young tennis players who showed promise in paying the game. Ashe received early recognition for his playing skills as Junior ATA (American Tennis Association) player, and made history when he won the 1960 National Interscholastics, becoming the first African American player from the South to do so. He went to make more history by winning the US Men’s Hard-court Championships in1963, and becoming the first African American to be named to a US Juniors Davis Cup team.
He graduated from UCLA, which he attended with a full scholarship, with a degree of Business Administration in 1966. Ashe served in the army right out of college for two years while competing in the amateur circuit. He was a household name by the time the 70s rolled in. He won the Australian Open that year and began to use his new fame to generate light on the social issues of racial apartheid in Africa. He called for South Africa’s expulsion from the International Tennis Federation, which was promptly granted. He was also successful in having the country expelled from the Davis Cup.
He again made history on the court when he defeated Jimmy Connors in 1975, becoming the first African American player to win the men’s singles titles in Wimbledon. This placed him at number one in the world. He was also named Player of the Year on the same year.
Ashe married his long-time sweetheart Jeanne Moutoussamy in 1977 and they had a daughter, Camera Elizabeth in 1985. A heart attack while participating in a tennis clinic and a subsequent hospitalization eventually led to his retirement from tennis in 1980. He served as Davis Cup captain for the next five years.
He used his spare time to campaign for the rights of African Americans in the United States. He served as Chairman of the American Heart Association, campaigned against the South American government forces, served as a tennis commentator for ABC and HBO Sports and became a columnist for the Washington Post and Tennis Magazine.
Ashe underwent bypass surgery in 1983. Right after the publication of his book, A Hard Road To Glory, about African American sportsmen, Ashe checked into the hospital and was diagnosed with a toxoplasmosis infection. Further tests revealed that he was HIV-positive, the cause of which was a tainted blood transfusion during his 1983 bypass surgery. Ashe broke this news to the world in 1992 and soon after established the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. He went to speak about the disease at the UN General Assembly in 1992.
Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia on February 6, 1993, at the age of 49.