Video: Arthur Ashe

Tennis great Arthur Ashe transcended his victories on the court to become one of the iconic figures in the history of American sports. Born in 1943, Ashe grew up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, where he learned to play tennis. As a student at UCLA he won the NCAA singles crown, joined the U.S. Davis Cup team as its first black member, and also began the training that led to his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Eventually he won 33 career tennis titles, including three Grand Slams. On and off the court, Ashe blended a touch of flamboyance with such grace, dignity, and intelligence that he earned widespread admiration. He also became a controversial spokesman for various causes, including the anti-apartheid movement involving South Africa. A heart attack in 1979 hastened the end of his tennis career; a second heart operation involved a blood transfusion that led to his contracting the HIV virus and, ultimately, AIDS itself. Before succumbing to the disease in 1993, he worked to educate others about HIV and AIDS. Moreover, he wrote several books on various aspects of the African American experience, especially in sports.

Arnold Rampersad has had a distinguished career as a teacher and author. He was a member of the Stanford University English faculty from 1974 to 1983 before accepting a position at Rutgers University. Since that time he has also taught at Columbia and Princeton, before eventually returning in 1998 to Stanford, where is currently Professor Emeritus. Professor Rampersad has written biographies of major African-American figures, including Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jackie Robinson, and Langston Hughes, and was co-author of Arthur Ashe’s memoir, Days of Grace. He has served as co-author of Oxford University Press’s Race and American Culture book series. The recipient of a MacArthur grant from 1991-1996, he is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a 2010 recipient of the National Humanities Medal.