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Picture of Arthur R. Ashe Jr.
Arthur R. Ashe Jr.

Arthur Ashe Jr., noted tennis professional and businessman, was born in Richmond, Virginia. He grew up playing tennis in his Brookfield home and at the Richmond Racquet Club, which was formed by local black tennis enthusiasts. By 1958, Ashe had reached the semifinals in the under-15 division of the National Junior Championships. Even before he finished high school, he was ranked 28th in the country among junior tennis players.

Ashe won the singles crowns of all the coveted championships, including Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and World Championship Tennis, and twice earned the world's number one ranking (1968 and 1975). He was the first black player in the Junior Davis Cup and on the U.S. team in 1963., He was captain and first black member of the U.S. Davis Cup team from 1981 to 1985. Ashe was also a star at Aetna Life & Casualty's Aetna World Cup for several years, competing with other top U.S. players against Australia's top players.

Ashe was a founder of the Association of Tennis Professionals and served as its first president. He joined with Charlie Pasarell and others to form the National Junior Tennis League. He worked with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, served as a consultant to Aetna and later on the corporation's board of directors and Minority Task Force.

Beginning in the early '80s, Ashe was a prominent advocate for civil rights and for the health of Africans in Africa and those of African descent outside Africa. He became involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and spoke out against crackdowns on Haitian refugees in the U.S.

After a heart attack in 1979, Ashe underwent quadruple bypass surgery but continued to experience heart trouble. In 1983, two years after officially retiring from competitive tennis, Ashe underwent double bypass surgery. In 1988, Ashe was hospitalized after feeling numbness in his right hand. Tests showed he had toxoplasmosis, a bacterial infection often present in people with HIV. Further tests showed that Ashe had HIV. The source of his exposure was believed to be the blood transfusion he received during his 1983 surgery.

Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of Aids and raised over 5 million dollars. On Dec. 1, 1992, World AIDS day, Ashe addressed the United Nations General Assembly, imploring delegates to boost funding for AIDS research to increase knowledge of the disease and its effects. In December 1992, Ashe was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. On February 6, 1993, Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York. On July 10, 1996, what would have been his 53rd birthday, a statue of Ashe -- depicted carrying books in one hand and a tennis racquet in the other -- was dedicated alongside statues of Confederate war heroes on Richmond's Monument Avenue. Twenty four programs that exist today were either founded by Arthur or in his name posthumously.

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