In Richmond, A Monument to Arthur Ashe Endures

A statue of Ashe stands on Monument Avenue

Arthur Ashe Wimbledon 1975
Arthur Ashe with the Wimbledon trophy after he beat the defending champion Jimmy Connors in four sets, 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 6th July 1975.
Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
By Tobias Carroll / July 11, 2020 3:54 pm

We’re living through an era where statues of controversial and racist figures are coming down across the world. Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia has seen more than a few come down since the year began. But there’s one that still stands, due to its subject being one of the most admired figures in American sports. That would be Arthur Ashe, the first Black man to win the US Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open, who grew up in Richmond. Ashe’s biography at the International Tennis Hall of Fame explains why he remains iconic:

Ashe was much more than a storied tennis player; he was an activist, author, educator, and a tireless campaigner for civil rights and racial equality, not only in the United States but worldwide, particularly against the apartheid systems of South Africa.

As Chuck Culpepper notes in an article for The Washington Post, Ashe’s statue was one of 6 on Monument Avenue; the other 5 situated there represented Confederate figures. Of those, 4 have since been removed; a statue of Robert E. Lee is the only one other than the statue of Ashe that remains — and the Lee statue might not be there for too much longer.

Culpepper’s article includes a memorable quote from Ashe’s brother Johnnie, who sees the Confederate monuments’ removal as the end of a process that began with the establishment of the monument to Ashe. “I do think, in all this time, it was truly the first instrument of change in Richmond. I really do,” Johnnie said. “I mean, true change. Because by virtue of the statue going there, it let the business people know the city of Richmond was capable of change.”

It’s a welcome reminder of historical legacies in general, as well as the specific legacy that Ashe left behind in his hometown.

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