It was a common notion in the 19th century that tennis was a sport meant to be played by only white people dressed in white apparels. This belief has its origins traced back to Wimbledon, the oldest and most well known tennis tournament and it was fueled by the racism and racial segregation at the time according to Arthur Ashe and Racism in Tennis (Toya, 2011). For this very reason, blacks were inhibited from just as simple as playing on the school’s team to playing professionally. However, in 1975 Arthur Ashe broke this mentality by being the first African American to win in the men’s singles of the Wimbledon tournament. Little did Arthur know at the time that this accomplishment made a significant impact towards ending racial discrimination especially in tennis. By gradually disproving the belief of color separation, he created new opportunities for the younger African American generation to participate in the game.
Alejandro De La Garza. Arthur Ashe 2012. Chief Writing Wolf, Texas. Website Title. 12/11/2015
My cultural artifact came to be a snapshot of Arthur Ashe winning Wimbledon in 1975 because I could relate to it in a sense that I use to play tennis back in high-school and still continue to do so in my spare time. When I compare myself to Arthur Ashe however, I am very fortunate because I did not have any constraints when I played the sport. Arthur, on the other hand, had multiple limitations such as having to use older tennis courts and out of date equipment while I was lucky enough to have the latter. The biggest challenge that he had to face though, was racial discrimination. I believe that the picture I chose certainly captures the essence of black movement in America in the 19th century and it’s incredibly mind-blowing how a sport can change the mentality of so many people. This is why I became fascinated to this particular picture and chose it to be my cultural artifact.
Arthur Ashe was born in 1943 in the city of Richmond, Virginia. Due to the segregation of blacks and whites during the time period, Arthur grew up in a community with poor living conditions. In comparison to the neighborhood that white’s lived in which was luxurious in new and up-to-date buildings, blacks had to use the older homes and facilities that were abandoned by the whites. Fortunately, Arthur’s dad was assigned to be the caretaker of the public play area near his house and so he was able to utilize the park’s tennis courts (Toya, 2011). Tennis soon became one of his main interests as he began to play more and more. Although he was skilled enough to play in the competitive scene, he was unable to compete in the junior tennis tournament due to his skin color. But this did not stop him from playing because while he was practicing day in and day out according to the Arthur Ashe Biography (2015), he caught the eye of Dr. Robert Walter Johnson Jr., who was very active in the black tennis community and a tennis coach. Under Dr. Robert’s supervision and coaching, Arthur was able to excel significantly.
In 1963, Ashe became the first African American to be recruited by the U.S. Davis Cup team (Arthur Ashe Biography, 2015). He was deemed to be the first African American in many other things such as winning the U.S Opens which shocked majority of the people and he was ranked No. 1 in the world in the year 1975. About 10 years later, he was the first African American to be welcomed to the international hall of fame. These reoccurring feats played a huge role in the demolishment of racism but it still lurked about in the atmosphere.
One prime example of how racism was present can be seen when Ilie Nastase forced Arthur Ashe to leave the tennis match after calling Arthur racist and provoking names. Ashe was interviewed after the game to which he said, “I’ve had enough. I’m at the point where I’m afraid I’ll lose control. I’d rather lose that than my self-respect (Toya, 2011). Since he intentionally left the match while it was still ongoing, a review was necessary by the board. What Ashe said influenced the minds of the board committee because if they were to give the win to Nastase then they would be supporting his comments but that was not the case. Nastase was forced to lose the game after consideration. Through this match, it can be seen that the sport of tennis is considerably changing the way tennis is viewed. It is a sport not just for white people but for black people as well. In the big picture, another step was accomplished in reaching racial equality.
Arthur Ashe really made a significant contribution to the community at the time and I believe that those achievements never perished away but rather, they laid the foundations and set pathways for newer ones. He was the founder of the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education in 1952 which provided tennis rackets to kids who were less fortunate and allowed them to play at little to no cost (AALC, 2012). Additionally, he cofounded the National Junior Tennis League in 1969 which essentially was the same as Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education in a sense that it allowed the game of tennis to be more accessible to the younger generation, specifically African Americans (AALC, 2012). Ashe was a role model for a lot of kids and as he once said “Racism is not an excuse to not do the best you can”. He emphasized to the young kids to not be discouraged because of their skin color but to use that to drive their motivation to be successful not only in sports but in their own community.
When I reflect back to what I have learned in the course, I noticed that this was the period where the Jim Crow Laws were in full effect. Basically these laws enforced racial segregation between white and people of color to which they were given the status “separate but equal” (Pittman, 2015). Jim Crow Laws authorized de jure racial segregation which took part mainly in the southern states and forced blacks to use separate facilities and also live in different neighborhoods. This was noticeable with Arthur Ashe having to use separate tennis courts than the whites and not being allowed to play in the junior tournaments due to the color of his skin. Any laws that were passed under the label Jim Crow Laws were expected to have different meanings for both whites and people of color (Pilgrim, 2000).
In retrospect, Arthur Ashe fought racism through the sport of tennis. He broke the color barrier that had existed in tennis and laid the foundations for the younger African American generation to play the game. One prime example was that he founded various groups such as the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education and the National Junior Tennis League. Arthur was exceptionally skillful in tennis and was the first African American to win in the U.S Opens. Soon after, he was the first African American to win the men’s singles in Wimbledon, shocking the vast majority. It ultimately had such a huge impact that it changed the mindset that the whites had beforehand. His legacy can still be seen today with the Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest tennis stadium in the world and is also where the U.S Opens take place. Arthur Ashe proved that blacks were just as equal as the whites in all aspects and that they deserved to be treated equally. Skin color certainly does not define how anybody should be treated at all.
By: John Bui
Arthur Ashe Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2015, from http://www.biography.com/people/arthur-ashe-9190544#early-tennis-career
Life Story. (2007). Retrieved December 11, 2015, from http://www.arthurashe.org/life-story.html
Pilgrim, D. (2000, September 1). What was Jim Crow. Retrieved December 11, 2015, from http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm
Toya, M. (2011, July 28). Arthur Ashe and Racism in Tennis. Retrieved December 11, 2015, from http://www.chukyoeibei.org/mag/?p=511
Pittman, L. (2015, December 1). New Jim Crow. Lecture presented at AFRAM 101, Seattle.