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My English Essay About Arthur Ashe

I wrote an essay about Arthur Ashe for English last year. We had to pick a person who represented the six pillars of character masterfully and write about their life and what they did to represent each pillar of character. I went over the top with mine. We were assigned to write two pages. Instead, I wrote ten! I’ve decided to put it up on here to share with all of you. It took me a long time to write this, and I hope you enjoy it.

Arthur Ashe


Arthur Ashe once said that he would feel he did no good to the world if people just remembered him as a tennis player. Arthur Ashe was not only one of the greatest tennis players in his time, he was also an activist speaking out against prejudice, an author, and a philanthropist who created a foundation called, “The Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.” Encountering many obstacles in his life, Arthur Ashe still found a way to make it through them, and become the legend that we know him as today. Being an African-American, Mr. Ashe had to face a lot of prejudice in his life, but he always found a way to ignore those people and stay true to himself. Mr. Ashe superbly represented the six pillars of character education because he stood up for what was right, he had great behavior and determination on and off the tennis courts, and he cared about loved ones more than himself.

Before he was introduced to tennis, Arthur Ashe did have a life. Born July 10, 1943 in Richmond, Virginia, Mr. Ashe was an avid reader and loved to listen to music with his mom. As a child, he was very skinny, probably skinny enough that you could see his bones. Although he couldn’t play many sports, he had very fast reflexes, which was perfect for tennis. Even then, he caught a number of diseases, which made him weak and thin. Until he was four years old, Mr. Ashe lived in an African-American district with his parents at his uncle’s house. Once his father had taken a job to watch over the park, Mr. Ashe and his family moved into a five-room house there. Around this time, Mr. Ashe’s brother, Johnnie Ashe, was born. At the park, there were several tennis courts. Mr. Ashe wouldn’t know what those tennis courts meant until later.


Soon after, everything changed. In March, 1950, Mr. Ashe’s mom, Mattie Ashe, died due to minor surgery. She was only twenty-seven years old, but the real problem was Mr. Ashe was only six years old, while his brother was only two. Mr. Ashe’s mom had done so much for him; she had taught him how to read before he even entered school. Mr. Ashe never forgot the time he last saw his mom, with no worries that anything was going to happen. While eating breakfast one morning, he saw his mom standing outside the door, watching him. She was wearing a blue corduroy bathrobe. Mr. Ashe once said to his dad, “Well, Daddy, as long as we’re together, everything will be all right.” Mr. Ashe practiced tennis for hours to forget about what had happened to his mom. After the funeral, Arthur Ashe Sr., Mr. Ashe’s father, hired an elderly widow named Mrs. Otis Berry. Her job was to take care of Arthur and Johnny, and to replace the job their mom had to do. Five years later, Arthur Ashe Sr. remarried to a woman named Lorene Kimbrough. Ms. Kimbrough had two kids, a boy and a girl named Robert and Loretta. Because of this, Mrs. Berry had to move into the room Mr. Ashe and his brother shared. But Mr. Ashe wasn’t around enough to care. He was on the courts playing tennis.

When Mr. Ashe was introduced to Ronald Charity, a student at a nearby university and one of America’s top black tennis players, Mr. Charity offered to help him with his tennis. At first, Mr. Charity was impressed. He gave Mr. Ashe challenging shots, and he still got them with a maximum amount of force. Mr. Charity decided that Mr. Ashe, then only seven years old, was ready for a new coach. Mr. Ashe was then introduced to Dr. Robert Walter Johnson, a successful medical doctor and an avid tennis player. He agreed to take the job of coaching Mr. Ashe. Dr. Johnson had also coached Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win a tennis title, and played at the national championships with her. Dr. Johnson was a very kind man; most families who hired him as a coach were very poor, so he paid all of their expenses for them. With Dr. Johnson as his new coach, Mr. Ashe had to wake up at six in the morning and train forty five minutes before breakfast. “Dr. Johnson told us no matter what happened, no matter what went against us, we should always show no emotion around whites. I guess that’s why I seem so emotionless on the court. You’ll never know how I really feel inside. You’ll just see nothing, or you’ll see me politely smiling. Then again, the training was so thorough, I may never know what’s really going on inside me either,” Mr. Ashe stated later. Along with tennis, Dr. Johnson taught his players manners, on and off the tennis court. This would do Mr. Ashe well in the future.

Meanwhile, at fifteen years old, Mr. Ashe had many accomplishments already. He had reached the semi-finals of the New Jersey Boy’s tournament, which consisted of mostly white players. Mr. Ashe had to top 150 white players to get to where he had gotten. Fifteen was also the age when he had beaten his old coach, Ronald Charity, in an ATA tournament. Mr. Ashe was the ATA’s youngest champion. After all of this, Mr. Ashe decided he needed to leave Richmond in order to become a better tennis player. Back in Richmond, Mr. Ashe couldn’t play tennis in the winter because there were no indoor courts open to blacks. But, most of all, he was so good nobody could come up to his level. Once he told this to his father, Mr. Ashe Sr. sent him to Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri. There, he had the option of practicing during the winter on the indoor courts. On the courts of St. Louis, Mr. Ashe had to play on a wooden floor. This helped him in his game, because he could develop a more aggressive style.

While in Missouri, Mr. Ashe was offered a scholarship from the UCLA. This marked the first time in history that the school had offered a scholarship to an African-American. After speaking to the university, he accepted without a doubt. While at UCLA, Mr. Ashe met his mentor, Pancho Gonzales, a fabulous tennis player. Mr. Gonzales lived close to the UCLA campus, and that is exactly where Mr. Ashe met him; on a UCLA court. Mr. Ashe looked back at the event, saying, “Meeting Pancho was the greatest break of my life. He not only was the best tennis player in the world, but he had the sharpest tennis mind. He could look at you hitting a ball once, and diagnose all your mistakes.”


Pancho Gonzales also had nice things to say about Mr. Ashe. “From the first time I saw him play, I knew Arthur Ashe was destined for success as a tennis champion. He was never satisfied with his performance, always feeling he could do better. That’s the sign of a champion.”

Additionally, many of Mr. Ashe’s teammates were the best in the nation, but he still pulled through to be ranked at number three. At UCLA, Mr. Ashe still had to face prejudice. The Ballboa Bay Club decided not to invite him to play in its tournament just because he was black. Later on, after UCLA, when Mr. Ashe was one of the best in the world, they invited him to play every year. But Mr. Ashe was smarter than them. He refused every time. During his sophomore year, he won the Southern California sectional title. With this, he was eligible to play at Wimbledon, one of the four grand slam tournaments. Mr. Ashe lost in the third round, but it was still a major accomplishment. In one of his years at UCLA, Mr. Ashe was awarded the Johnson Award. This award is given out each year to the player who contributes the most to tennis. In order to win, players should show good sportsmanship and character on and off the tennis courts. Mr. Ashe’s winning showed that an all-white club accepted an African-American athlete.
In the spring of 1966, Mr. Ashe graduated from UCLA. He had the highest grade point average there. He was offered a chance to stay in Richmond’s finest hotel. Mr. Ashe told the crowd, “Ten years ago this would not have happened. It is as much a tribute to Richmond and the state of Virginia as it is to me.” Mr. Ashe also recollected how proud his grandmother was about his graduation, “I’ll never forget how proud my grandmother was when I graduated from UCLA. Never mind the Davis Cup, Wimbledon, Forest Hills. To this day, she still doesn’t know what those names mean. What mattered to her was that of her more than thirty grandchildren, I was the first one to be graduated from college, and a famous college at that. Somehow that made up for all the floors she scrubbed all those years.”

After his days at UCLA, Mr. Ashe was required to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. UCLA made all of its students do this job. Taking the job meant he had to serve two years as an officer in the military. In order to do this, Mr. Ashe would have to go to Fort Lewis, Washington. He was a second lieutenant, which was a very responsible position. But, taking this job meant missing out on a lot of tennis competitions. Because of that, the army let him have some time off to play tennis. This got him to number two in the nation.

During a lot of Mr. Ashe’s career he was fighting against prejudice in South Africa. A little before 1970, South Africa wouldn’t let him come to the country for the Davis Cup. His visa was denied, and Mr. Ashe protested. But no matter what he did, they wouldn’t let him travel to South Africa. In 1970, his protesting actually worked, and South Africa was banned from the Davis Cup competition. But Mr. Ashe never wanted to punish individual tennis players from South Africa, he just wanted the government to be punished. This worked, though, because a little while later he was finally able to get a visa to play in South Africa. Mr. Ashe had even broken history books, for he was the first black man to get to the finals of the South African Open. Although South Africa was prejudiced at first, there were some bright points from Mr. Ashe’s visit. The people of South Africa seemed to enjoy him, because he was given a nickname from the crowd—sipho, which in English, means gift.

One of the greatest highlights of Mr. Ashe’s career was when he won the 1975 Wimbledon title. At thirty two years old, he had beaten Jimmy Connors, a bright new star in tennis history. He had done something that no other African-American man had ever done: he was the first to win a grand slam title of any kind. Because the new players hit so hard, Mr. Ashe had to come up with a new strategy. He settled on outsmarting them, and making them run. To remind himself of this strategy during the match, Mr. Ashe wrote notes to himself and read them during the changeover. Nobody in the crowd knew what he was doing; many of them thought he was praying because he was looking into his cupped hands. With this Wimbledon title, Mr. Ashe not only proved that an African-American was just as good as any other player, he also proved that he was still on his game. Before the title, from 1971 to 1974, Mr. Ashe played 123 tournaments, and won only eleven of them. This title was one of the most emotional times of his whole life. “When I took the match point, all the years, all the effort, all the support I had received over the years came together. It’s a long way from Brookfield to Wimbledon,” Mr. Ashe stated.


On July 30, 1979, Mr. Ashe had multiple chest pains. When he went to the doctor, Mr. Ashe was told that he was having a heart attack. The doctor said Mr. Ashe would never be able to play tennis again unless he had open heart surgery. Fortunately, he was all right, but this tragedy would ruin his career. Mr. Ashe had lasted through surgery on his heart, and it was truly a miracle. “The two greatest moments in my life were the day I married Jeannie and the morning I woke up alive after surgery,” Mr. Ashe said. On April 16, 1980, Mr. Ashe announced his retirement to the world because of the heart attack he had. Mr. Ashe looked back on his tennis days, and said he remembered being as noticeable as the only raisin in a rice pudding. He didn’t feel like he belonged. “I don’t belong anywhere. It’s like I’m floating down the middle. I’m never quite sure where I am,” Mr. Ashe told people. But the world will always remember Arthur Ashe’s tennis days better than anything else.

Mr. Ashe was not only an activist and a tennis player, he was also a talented author. He wrote many books in his lifetime, three of them autobiographies, and the rest instruction books. About the year 1982, Mr. Ashe started researching black athletes. He realized there were very few books out about their history. His research took six years to complete, and covered from 1619 to the time that he started working on it. “The more I delved into it, the more emotionally attached I got to the information—especially with people I felt had undertaken heroic actions,” Mr. Ashe stated. He spent $250,000 of his own money to research all this information. All of his hard work paid off in the end, though, and it resulted into a three-volume book called A Hard Road To Glory.


In 1988, tragedy struck again. Mr. Ashe had come down with the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), an incurable disease. Mr. Ashe found out he had this deadly disease when an infection was found in his brain. Doctors told him the AIDS virus caused the infection. Mr. Ashe went public with the news in 1992, because many news reporters were suspicious. During the press conference, Mr. Ashe stated two important things: “Any earlier admission of the AIDS infection would have seriously, permanently, and unnecessarily infringed upon our family’s right to privacy.” Later in the press conference, Mr. Ashe said, “We are a hundred percent sure the cause of my HIV infection was a blood transfusion either after my 1979 bypass operation or my 1983 operation. We are ninety five percent sure it was the ’83 operation.” As a result of his virus, Mr. Ashe created his own foundation called the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. After three months, the foundation raised $500,000. Even with the AIDS virus, Mr. Ashe refused to let it conquer him. He still went to meetings, ceremonies, and fundraisers.

Because he knew he was dying, Mr. Ashe wanted to spend as much time as he could with his daughter, Camera Ashe. He took her to the park, let her pump gas in the car, and took her to the hospital for his tests. While with her father, Camera learned many medical things, like taking temperatures and giving medications with an inhaler. Mr. Ashe worked harder to make sure Camera would remember him. Although sick, Mr. Ashe was more concerned about his daughter than himself. He wrote her a long letter telling her how much he loved her, and his hopes and fears for her. “I may not be walking with you all the way, or even much of the way, as I walk with you now. Don’t be angry with me if I am not there in person, alive and well when you need me. I would like nothing more than to be with you always. Do not feel sorry for me if I am gone. When we were together, I loved you deeply and you gave me so much happiness I can never repay you. Camera, wherever I am when you feel sick at the heart and weary of life, or when you stumble and fall and don’t know if you can get up again, think of me. I will be watching and smiling and cheering you on,” Mr. Ashe stated in his letter.


In 1993, Mr. Ashe caught PCP, a type of pneumonia that kills many people with AIDS. He recovered from the disease for a short time, but caught the deadly disease yet again. Unfortunately, this time, the AIDS virus beat Arthur Ashe. On February 6, 1993 at 3:13 pm, Mr. Ashe died in New York. He was at a fairly young age: forty nine years old. Before he passed away, while in the hospital, a fan sent him a letter asking, “would he never ask: why me, God?” Mr. Ashe responded to his fan saying, millions of people play tennis, “out of which only two get to play the Wimbledon finals and only one gets to win it. When I was holding the trophy, I never asked, God, why me? So, why should I now ask?” Mr. Ashe’s final work was called Days of Grace, which includes his struggle with AIDS. “It’s all a burden all right. But AIDS isn’t the heaviest burden I have had to bear. No question about it. Race has always been my biggest burden. Having to live as a minority in America. Even now it continues to feel like an extra weight tied around me,” Mr. Ashe wrote in his book.

Mr. Ashe’s wife, Jeanne Ashe, said, “He fought hard, and as in his tennis days, it was always how he played the game.”


Although he has passed away, Mr. Ashe’s memory still lives on. In 1994, Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day was introduced. The event raises money for the National Junior Tennis League, which is a foundation that Mr. Ashe co-founded. In 1997, the USTA announced that the new Centre stadium at the US Open would be named ‘Arthur Ashe Stadium’ in remembrance of Mr. Ashe. All of the players can get a chance to play on this court today, a court where Arthur Ashe is still alive.


James Blake, an excellent African-American player of today, was influenced by Arthur Ashe, and started playing because of him. Mr. Blake talks about his idol, and how he affected playing his game. “I owe Arthur Ashe a great debt of gratitude for being able to deal with the pressures and situations. It took a great man and a great athlete like him to do that… to really break the color barrier in tennis and be such a great champion; and to be so well respected as a sportsman to where people could really add no disparaging remarks about him with any valid basis… I’m very grateful.”


In conclusion, from a scrawny little boy, Arthur Ashe transitioned into a huge role model, and became loved by others. Mr. Ashe, a kind gentleman, was much more than just a tennis player, and he proved that with all he did with the world. His love for tennis was truly amazing. Through all the tough times in his life, Mr. Ashe always found a way to make it through them, even when they seemed impossible. After what Mr. Ashe did for the world, he deserved the entire honor he got and still gets, and all of the events honoring him. Mr. Ashe fully represents the six pillars of character because he stood up for what was right, he had great behavior and determination on and off the tennis courts, and he cared about loved ones more than himself. Mr. Ashe truly was beyond what words can speak, he is more of a picture worth a thousand words.

Works Cited
“Ashe, Arthur.” The Lincoln Library of Sports Champions. 2004.
“About Arthur.” CMG Worldwide. 18 July 2006. CMG Worldwide. 2 December 2008.
Dowling, Claudia Glenn and Moutoussammy Ashe, Jeanne. “Daddy and me. (Arthur
Ashe and daughter Camera)”. Life November 1993: 61. Gale. 25 November 2008.
Fein, Paul. You Can Quote Me on That. Dulles, Virginia, Potomac Books, Inc. 2005.
“Obituary.” Biography Today. 1994.
Rediger, Pat. Great African Americans in Sports. New York, Crabtree Publishing
Company. 1996.

Thanks to every site that allowed me to use these wonderful pictures.




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