Arthur Ashe (10 July 1943 - 6 February 1993), a Richmond native, came of age during a time when segregation was standard in Virginia daily life. As a youth, Ashe was barred from playing tennis at the city’s segregated public parks. Ashe learned to play tennis from Ron Charity at Brook Park at the age of seven and later from Dr. Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson at his tennis camp in Lynchburg. Ashe graduated from Maggie Walker High School and received a tennis scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Ashe was named to the US Davis Cup team in 1963 during his junior year at UCLA, the first African American to be so honored. In that same year, Ashe became the first person to win both the US Amateur Tennis Championship and the US Open. Ashe was named the number one tennis player in the world after defeating Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1975. Again, he was the first African American man to receive this highest honor in his field. Ashe suffered a heart attack and retired from professional tennis at the age of 36 in 1979. Throughout his career Ashe had 818 wins and 260 losses.
During open heart surgery following his heart attack, Ashe received a tainted blood transfusion which infected him with the HIV/AIDS virus. He announced his condition during a press conference in April of 1992. Until his death in February of 1993, Ashe continued to devote his life to human rights activism in Haiti, and pressed for greater attention and funding for AIDS awareness and research.
Weeks before his death, Ashe met with sculptor Paul di Pasquale who wanted to create a statue of Ashe to place outside the future Richmond-based African-American Sports Hall of Fame. Ashe wished to be depicted in a warm-up suit surrounded by children and books. Following his death, the Richmond City Council proposed to honor Ashe by renaming the Boulevard in Richmond after him. Governor L. Douglas Wilder stated that he wanted Ashe to be honored on Monument Avenue. Tensions across Virginia rose as the public debated the inclusion of an African-American statue alongside those of Confederate leaders. National attention encouraged a larger discussion about race and the role of public history. Ultimately, the city council voted 6-1 in favor of the Arthur Ashe statue’s placement on Monument Avenue.
The dedication and unveiling ceremony was held on July 10, 1996, Ashe’s birthday, attracting thousands of spectators for a celebration of Ashe’s achievements as a humanitarian, scholar, and athlete.
On February 11, 2019, the Richmond City Council voted 8-0-1 to change the Boulevard to Arthur Ashe Boulevard, endorsing the plan put forth by 2nd District Councilwoman Kimberly Gray. Arthur Ashe Boulevard was formally dedicated on June 22, 2019.
The twelve-foot statue features Ashe in a warm-up suit, glasses and tennis shoes, holding a tennis racket in one hand and books in the other, while the children at his feet look up admiringly.