The Novice

Ashe’s tennis career began innocently enough, as a stick of a boy learning how to swing a racket in a Richmond’s local Brookfield park, but soon exploded into a career the likes of which have never been rivaled. His youthful potential was recognized by Ronald Charity, who recommended to Dr. Walter Johnson, the mentor and coach of Althea Gibson, that the budding young tennis star might spend the summer of 1953 at Johnson’s home in Lynchfield. This would prove to be the true beginning of Arthur Ashe, the tennis superstar.

Four years later, Ashe would set the first a long series of firsts, becoming the first African-American to play in the Maryland boys’ tennis championships. This was a first for Ashe as well, as it was the first tournament he had played that was integrated. He was fourteen. For the first half-decade of his tennis career, Ashe had been forbidden to play against whites in a sport that was dominated by the affluent, the Anglo-Saxon, and the non-black. Apparently no one told Ashe, who once said concerning race relations in tennis, “Some folks call tennis a rich people’s sport or a white person’s game. I guess I started too early, because I just thought it was something fun to do.”

Despite Ashe’s personal nonchalance, race relations would soon come to affect his tennis career again in 1960. Disgusted and frustrated with the difficulties of the long distance travel he would often have to make in order to play against integrated opponents, Ashe began contemplating a move. Fate intervened once again on behalf of the talented youngster, and a tennis official from St. Louis offered Ashe room and board at his house. Ashe quickly accepted the proffered invitation, and for his senior year in high school, enrolled in Sumner High School.