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On July 10, 1943, Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was born in Richmond, Va., to parents Arthur Sr. and Mattie Ashe. Ashe lost his mother at a young age, and he and his siblings were raised by their father. Running a strict household, Arthur Sr. didn’t allow his sons to play sports and kept them close to home so they would avoid trouble.
Ashe discovered tennis around the age of 7, and his prodigious talents were later discovered by tennis coach Dr. Robert Walter Johnson Jr. Under Dr. Johnson’s tutelage, Ashe made it to the tennis junior national championship game. He then moved to St. Louis to work with another coach, winning the junior national title in 1960 and once more in 1961.
Rising to become one of the best amateur tennis players in the country, Ashe entered UCLA on a scholarship and continued to add aspects to his game. In 1963, Ashe would become the first African American to be recruited by the U.S. Davis Cup team. After training under his idol, Pancho Gonzales, Ashe would become the first, and only, African-American man to win the U.S. Open title. In 1970, Ashe would win the Australian Open title as well.
Making history on the court became routine for Ashe who became the first Black player to be ranked #1 in the world via the tennis rankings. He also managed to defeat the highly favored tennis great Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon match, although Ashe was nearing the end of his career.
Ashe stepped away from the game in 1979, but before he did, he fought to bring tennis to urban cities and became a vocal opponent of apartheid after he was denied a visa to play in South Africa in 1969. As an activist, Ashe was on the forefront of fighting for the equal rights of Blacks around the world and never once forget his humble roots.
As Ashe’s health begin to deteriorate after years of heart issues, he came forward in 1992 and announced to the world he had contracted the AIDS virus. Instead of fading into obscurity, Ashe became a vocal proponent of AIDS research and created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS to help spread his message.
Ashe would succumb to the disease on February 6, 1993, and he was laid to rest in his hometown of Richmond. Ashe is survived by his wife Jeanne Moutoussamy and their daughter, Camera.