Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era

Article excerpt

Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era. By Eric Allen Hall. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. Pp. [xii], 331. $34.95, ISBN 978-1-4214-1394-5.)

In 1997 the United States Tennis Association opened Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York--center court for the U.S. Open. The 22,000-seat stadium is a fitting tribute to Arthur Ashe, winner of the first U.S. Open tournament that included professional players. Ashe exemplified the best of both sports and activism. He challenged segregation as a youth, he won at every level of tennis, and he demonstrated the possibilities of activism led by athletes when he opposed apartheid in South Africa. Eric Allen Hall has written an important scholarly biography of this tennis legend. Covering Ashe s life from his childhood in Richmond, Virginia, to his death from AIDS in 1993, Hall has captured Ashe's on-court achievements as a pioneering athlete and as an activist on racial issues. This critical biography is an important contribution to the historiographies of sports, civil rights, and human rights.

Hall argues that Ashe engaged in activism not as a "militant" but as a "statesman" (p. 5). Hall describes how Ashe used his tennis success as currency to critique South African racial policies and to comment on the nature of American racism. In support of his thesis, Hall successfully uses an array of popular and archival sources, which he outlines in an important "Essay on Sources" at the conclusion of the book. In particular Hall's deep engagement with the black press demonstrates the quality of his work.

The balance of Hall's biography focuses on the decades after 1968, in which Ashe showed that "black athletes could fight racism and injustice from the political center" (p. 5). Ashe's pioneering victory in the 1968 U.S. Open came months after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, amid the flourishing of the Black Power movement, and weeks before Tommie Smith and John Carlos became icons of the revolt of the black athlete at the Summer Olympics. …

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