BBC iPlayer - Storyville: Citizen Ashe

Highly Recommended:

Documentary that tells the little-known story of sports legend Arthur Ashe off the tennis court. Known to most on account of his stellar sports career – he became the first black man to win Wimbledon in 1975 – the film uncovers Ashe’s work as a social activist, a role that embraced the civil rights movement in the US, African Americans and oppressed people throughout the world

I vividly remember that final. I knew that Connors was a better player than Ashe, with more power and aggression but I’ve always admired “elegant” tennis players, so I was rooting for Ashe, who had never beaten Connors. I recall Ashe’s still, calm demeanor between ends, closing his eyes, as if in a trance. I remember that he didn’t seem to be putting in as much effort as in previous matches yet Connors seemed to be putting in more. Last night I leaned why … :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

Also, I learned more about his childhood. His mother died when he was 6 and his father, a strict disciplinarian, brought up 2 sons in the strictly segregated city of Richmond, Virgina, the capital of the Confederacy. In 1955, Arthur was 12 when 14-year-old Emmett Till, from Chicago, was kidnapped, tortured and killed by two men in Money, Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. They threw the body in the Tallahatchie River. The men were charged, tried and found not guilty by (naturally) an all-white jury in a trial that was news from coast-to-coast. Ashe never forgot that, in the South, a black man “stepping out of line” risked, at best a beating, at worst, torture and mutilation before death. So, he became the “quiet man” until success in tennis gave him the confidence and the opportunity to voice his understated, but still radical, opinions.

There’s so much more in the documentary, including contributions from his beautiful widow and his younger brother, Johnnie, who served an extra tour of duty (and was wounded) in Vietnam so that Arthur’s tennis career would not be interrupted by the draft.

A fascinating man who led a rich, full life but who died young, aged 49.


Arthur Ashe was given blood contaminated with the Aids virus in a blood transfusion.

That, with more detail, is in the documentary, too.

I didn’t watch the documentary but I do remember the part you wrote about Ashe’s history, the part where he was unable to speak up until he was successful in tennis, allowing the louder players to make more noise.

I vividly remember that final too, it was absolutely spellbinding. So much so, my young son and the little girl from across the road disappeared.
They were found at the local newsagent’s shop, helping themselves to sweets