Time and again, Arthur Ashe’s extraordinary life defied conventional wisdom: from his early years as a tennis prodigy, to his unorthodox campaign against apartheid in South Africa; to his unexpected 1975 triumph at Wimbledon, to his off-court career as a public intellectual, and his personal struggle against AIDS. He was a black man in a white man’s sport, an independent spirit in a professional culture that demanded conformity, a consummate gentleman in a grinding arena of winner-take-all competition, and an apostle of moral courage in an age of self-interest: in essence, he was the perennial exception.
Ashe did not make it to the age of fifty–succumbing to complications related to AIDS in 1993. But his abbreviated saga remains one of the great stories of the twentieth century. Few athletes of any longevity have influenced more individuals and institutions or left a more distinctive legacy. In this lecture, based on his comprehensive biography Arthur Ashe, A Life (2018), Professor Raymond Arsenault will place this great and good man in the context of both his time and the long struggle of African American athletes seeking equal opportunity and respect.