Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by WonderTeam. WonderTeam Wonders, “Who was Arthur Ashe?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, WonderTeam!

When you think of great athletes, who comes to mind? Your thoughts might jump to Serena or Venus Williams. Maybe you think of Michael Jordan or Megan Rapinoe. You might picture Usain Bolt or Jesse Owens sprinting toward a finish line. Or perhaps you WONDER about the tennis star who’s the subject of today’s Wonder of the Day—Arthur Ashe!

Arthur Ashe was born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia. In 1950, his mother passed away just before he turned seven. That same year, he began to play tennis. Ashe’s talent as an athlete quickly became obvious.

Ashe would go on to break many barriers in the tennis world. In 1958, he became the first African American to play tennis in the Maryland boys’ championships. Two years later, he headed to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). There, he became the first African American player on the U.S. Davis Cup team. Ashe graduated with a degree in business administration in 1966.

Was Ashe done with tennis after college? Of course not! But he did spend two years in the U.S. Army after graduation. He became a second lieutenant at West Point. Ashe also continued to play tennis during this time. He became the first African American to win the U.S. Open in 1968.

Arthur Ashe went on to win various other tournaments, including the 1970 Australian Open. He also became the first African American man to win Wimbledon in 1975. Ashe became very well-known for his talent as a tennis player. Soon, he developed a reputation for advocacy to match. 

For instance, Ashe took a strong stance against South Africa’s system of Apartheid. After years of being turned away, Ashe became the first Black person to play in the nation’s national championships. He won the doubles title there with Tom Okker. He reached the final round of the singles before he was defeated. 

Ashe also sought to help children learn to play tennis. He co-founded the National Junior Tennis League, which gave kids the chance to play the game. He hoped that the program would teach life skills like discipline in addition to tennis.

In 1977, Ashe married a photographer named Jeanne Moutoussamy. Later, the two adopted a daughter. They named her Camera, after Moutoussamy’s profession. Ashe continued to see success as a professional tennis player. But in 1979, he had his first heart attack. After surgery and recovery, he returned to the court.

However, Ashe’s health would continue to interrupt his career. In 1980, he retired from tennis. He continued his activism, though, and wrote for several publications. He was featured in both the New York Times and Washington Post. In 1985, Arthur Ashe became the first African American man in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

In 1983, Ashe co-founded Athletes Against Apartheid. That same year, he had another surgery on his heart. He was hospitalized again five years later in 1988. That’s when he was diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). He may have gotten HIV from a blood transfusion during his 1983 surgery.

Arthur Ashe died of pneumonia related to AIDS on February 6, 1993. During his 49 years of life, he left a legacy that people around the world remember today. He is remembered as a role model both on and off the tennis court. He’s honored today with a monument in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond also renamed a street for him in 2019.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.8, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

Wonder What's Next?