Arthur Ashe, tennis player and would-be ambassador, gets a little training and a few shocks on a Government-sponsored tour of Africa
From Sports Illustrated, March 1, 1971
"You know, the last thing I expected was to be assimilated into African culture. As a matter of fact, I'm looked upon here as a curio. A curio. Now it works both ways. I find Africans so much more homogenous than anything I'm used to. I myself would have to use the expression that they sure all look alike to me. I don't even know what standards of beauty are expected. I don't even know that.
"Don't forget," Arthur went on, "that I'm a stranger here."
"Now, speaking strictly for myself," he says, "I am in Africa in large part for purely educational reasons. Before I'm finished in tennis, I want to get out and see everything, everything on earth. Not too many people have done it. Not too many people can. This just gives me the tools to make decisions.
"I have had such rare opportunities, such a unique education, and, beyond that, the chance to try to apply what I have learned. I have thought sometimes that I might like to be a Senator, but, let's face it: Senator Ashe from Virginiaeven in 20 years that's an unlikely possibility. But if it could happen, there are many people in the U.S. who can do things there that I do. Where I can best employ my special opportunities is abroad. We've never had a black athlete in the U.S. who can do what I have been given the chances to do."
Arthur speaks neither idly nor immodestly, just practically. He has in a very real sense spent his whole life in diplomatic training. Under the best of circumstances, a Foreign Service officer coming up through regular channels might not accumulate the practical experience Arthur has at 27 until he was twice the age. Only a young man with a temperament to match an exceptionally good mind could have found his way through the social and psychological maze that Arthur has had to cope with. Jackie Robinson and other pioneers had direct, obvious confrontations. Arthur had an insidious kind of country-club-liberal enemy and subtle encounters that could not be settled simply by coming in with high spikes next time.