As a racial symbol Arthur Ashe sometimes has trouble keeping a straight face. On the tennis court, only lack of concentration stands between him and greatness
From Sports Illustrated, August 29, 1966
Among the tennis trophies arrayed in the living room of the Ashe home in Richmond, Va. is a decree attestingquite officially, with one pompous "whereas" after anotherto the honors and attributes of Arthur Ashe Jr. and to the fame that he has brought to his native city. The house, marked for demolition now, is at the edge of Brookfield Park, a Negro playground where Arthur Ashe Sr. is guardian and caretaker. The park includes two major recreational facilities, though one of them, a pool, no longer holds any water. Richmond, in another, but less inspired, moment declared that it was better to empty all its pools than to permit the races to cool off together.
About midway between the wasted pool and the warm words on the living room wall is the tennis court where the young man who may someday be the best player in the world started to learn the game. Somehow he also learned to endure the capriciousness of a time that so arbitrarily gives and takes from his race. He is the only Negro player in a white tennis world. He is very easy to spot. But he sometimes has difficulty finding himself, for he must also serve as an image, that of the American Dream, minority division. Further, because of his unique status, he is invariably pestered by fawning Negroes whom he does not know and by patronizing whites keen to display their latent brotherhood now that they have a colored boy right here at the club.
It is a difficult role for a 23-year-old, but Ashe bears it all with ease. "His head is not big enough," says Dr. Walter Johnson, an old coach and friend. "He tries to be too accommodating and popular with everyone." Nevertheless, were Ashe not possessed of mature balance and a discerning appreciation of the ironies about him, it is not likely that he ever would have become the 100th player in the nation, much less the best or second best. It is often that whiteswhether out of condescension or sinceritysay of him: "There would be no race trouble if all Negroes were like Arthur Ashe." But the complete response is: there would be no race trouble if all people were like Arthur Ashe.