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Arthur Ashe

Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era

Eric Allen Hall

Publication Year: 2014

Arthur Ashe explains how this iconic African American tennis player overcame racial and class barriers to reach the top of the tennis world in the 1960s and 1970s. But more important, it follows Ashe’s evolution as an activist who had to contend with the shift from civil rights to Black Power. Off the court, and in the arena of international politics, Ashe positioned himself at the center of the black freedom movement, negotiating the poles of black nationalism and assimilation into white society. Fiercely independent and protective of his public image, he navigated the thin line between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and radicals, the sports establishment and the black cause. Eric Allen Hall’s work examines Ashe’s life as a struggle against adversity but also a negotiation between the comforts—perhaps requirements—of tennis-star status and the felt obligation to protest the discriminatory barriers the white world constructed to keep black people "in their place." Ashe lived a peculiarly difficult moral life, the personal and political producing exquisite conflict. White society expected him to be grateful; black militants scolded him for not being radical enough. He broke racial taboos by playing tennis in Dixie and in South Africa, but he valued his privacy and shunned extremism. Ashe forced positive change in the United States and South Africa with an approach that borrowed from both the civil rights and the Black Power movements. After a severe heart attack in 1979, he stopped playing professional tennis but maintained a visible public profile as coach of the U.S. Davis Cup team, anti-apartheid activist, and author of A Hard Road to Glory, the first published synthesis of African American sports history. A fierce guardian of his private life, Ashe was forced to publicly acknowledge that he was ill with AIDS—having become infected with HIV from a blood transfusion following coronary bypass surgery in 1983. He died of the disease in 1993. Drawing on coverage of Ashe’s athletic career and social activism in domestic and international publications, archives including the Ashe Papers, and a variety of published memoirs and interviews, Hall has created an intimate, nuanced portrait of a great athlete who stood at the crossroads of sports and equal justice.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

As a child growing up in suburban Chicago in the days before the Internet, I would entertain myself for hours by bouncing a rubber ball against the wall of my family’s brick house. I imagined myself as Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg hitting a home run or pitcher Greg Maddux hurling a complete game. In the evenings...

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pp. 1-5

The grandstands of the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York, brimmed with excitement on September 9, 1968, the date of the first-ever U.S. Open championship match. Ever since the United States Lawn Tennis Association made the venue its home in 1915, the crowds that entered the turnstiles...

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1. Richmond

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pp. 6-33

Two public parks, one majestic, the other dilapidated, underscored the realities of “separate but equal” in the 1950s. For many residents of Richmond, Virginia, Byrd Park was the perfect place to escape the grind of city life. Located north of the James River in the city’s West End, the park off ered three man- made lakes...

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pp. 34-63

As Ashe prepared to complete Mrs. Cox’s homework assignment, his comfort zone suddenly eluded him. The freshman En glish teacher at Maggie Walker High School had instructed her students to write a short essay that required each of the young men and women to take a position on an issue. The assignment...

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3. An Emerging Activist

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pp. 64-96

“It was a time of horror, embitterment, despair, and agony,” wrote one historian about 1968. Another scholar, offering a more balanced perspective, remarked that “1968 combined both revolutionary bombast and spiritual fulfillment, ecstasy and self- destruction, success and failure.” In 1968 America launched...

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4. Bright Lights and Civil Rights

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pp. 97-118

September 15, 1968, began like any other Sunday in America. While some families readied for church or prepared to run errands, others turned on their television sets to watch the weekly news programs over breakfast and coffee. Since its debut on November 7, 1954, CBS’s Face the Nation had been a must-see...

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5. Tennis Wars

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pp. 119-142

The early 1970s were frustrating years for an embattled Arthur Ashe. Anger and disappointment over his visa denials had spread beyond the tennis world. Within South Africa, Prime Minister Vorster touted his rejection of Ashe in speeches and interviews throughout the country, hoping to convince the racial hardliners...

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6. Defeat and Victory in South Africa

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pp. 143-178

In late November 1973 Ashe was a long way from the beaches of Miami and the tennis courts of the Doral Country Club. And he was mentally and physically exhausted. He had just spent thirteen days in South Africa competing in the South African Open, touring the slums of Soweto, debating professors and students...

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7. Transitions

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pp. 179-206

The reviews were in. “Ashe cut an aloof, disdainful figure on the courts. He was so dignified he was almost painful to watch,” reported the Cape Times. The “integrated” crowds had erupted in cheers after every point and following each one of Ashe’s powerful strokes. Exhibiting an uncharacteristic focus and a...

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8. The Comeback

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pp. 207-234

“The day will come when you’re going to have to stand on your own two feet and make it,” lectured Ashe over boos, jeers, and angry shouts. Like the black South African journalists to whom Ashe had spoken years earlier, this crowd of Howard University students refused to let Ashe hold serve. When he voiced...

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9. Triumph and Tragedy

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pp. 235-268

“The game desperately needs the Arthur Ashes,” wrote one Richmond columnist, “the men with his vision, his voice of reason, his eloquence, his demeanor.” In August 1979, however, an ailing Ashe remained in no position to take the court. While Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe thrilled spectators...

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pp. 269-272

Virginia state flags flew at half- staff on February 9, 1993, on the orders of Douglas Wilder, the state’s first African American governor. Hours before sunset on a cold and rainy winter day, white and black, rich and poor, men and women, liberals and conservatives all lined the streets of downtown Richmond to pay...


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pp. 273-314

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 315-322

Scholars interested in Ashe’s public life should fi rst consult the mainstream pop u lar press. Beginning in the mid- 1960s, sportswriters such as Allison Danzig, Jim Murray, Neil Amdur, Frank Deford, and Bud Collins reported on Ashe’s athletic career and social activism for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston...


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pp. 323-331

E-ISBN-13: 9781421413952
E-ISBN-10: 1421413957
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421413945
Print-ISBN-10: 1421413949

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 12 halftones
Publication Year: 2014

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Subject Headings

  • Ashe, Arthur.
  • Tennis players -- United States -- Biography.
  • African American tennis players -- Biography.
  • Civil rights -- United States.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
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