Arthur Ashe auction will include items from public and private life of late tennis pioneer

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the auction house. This version has been corrected.


The wife of late tennis star and humanitarian Arthur Ashe, who died in 1993 at age 49 of complications from AIDS, has opted to sell items from his public and private life. Some proceeds will go to the Arthur Ashe Learning Center. (Charles Tasnadi/Associated Press)
February 2, 2013

Arthur Ashe relied on datebooks to organize his life, logging in each upcoming speech, appearance and appointment as a means of keeping himself on task and communicating with his wife, photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe.

Though Ashe died in 1993, his datebook from that year is filled with commitments. As such, it offers a window on a life interrupted: The extraordinary achievements of a sports pioneer — the first African American man to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon — as well as a humanitarian, author and advocate for civil rights and AIDS awareness.

Ashe’s 1993 datebook is among a trove of items — including his 1968 U.S. Open trophy and 1975 Wimbledon trophy — that will be auctioned on Wednesday, the 20th anniversary of his death.

“It’s time,” Moutoussamy-Ashe, 61, said in a telephone interview Saturday. “I’ve obviously had 20 years to think about it; it’s not a decision we came to easily or quickly. Twenty years is a long time. Honestly, in that time, I have pretty much shared and given and distributed all of the things that I wanted to share and give and distribute to people, friends and family.”

The items to be auctioned reflect nearly every facet of Ashe’s life, both public and private. In addition to the Wimbledon and U.S. Open trophies, they include a high school tennis trophy, his UCLA letter sweater, his U.S. Davis Cup jacket, 1975 Wimbledon diary, handwritten speeches about black athletes and AIDS and numerous personal items, including his wisdom teeth.

Details of the items included in the auction, including minimum bids, are available at www.arthurashe.org. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the New York-based Arthur Ashe Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes Ashe’s legacy.

Moutoussamy-Ashe said she has been trying to raise money on behalf of the center during such difficult economic times.

“People see me coming, and they turn the other way,” she said. “But [the auction] has brought attention to Arthur’s legacy. In a way, it’s going to help move his legacy forward.”

Moutoussamy-Ashe said she had received several inquiries from auction houses in the past. But this recent overture, from Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles, came at what felt like the right time, as she had been sorting through boxes stowed for years while preparing to move to a new house.

“I realized that 20 years had passed, how much longer am I going to hold onto these things to hand to my daughter?” Moutoussamy-Ashe explained. “I started thinking, ‘We have everything we want. And there are things here I never considered that other people might be happy owning.’ ”

Ashe, who was born in Richmond, would have turned 70 this July.

He won the NCAA singles championships at UCLA and was the first African American selected for the U.S. Davis Cup team. He went on to become the first (and, to date, only) African American man to win the U.S. Open (1968), the Australian Open (1970) and Wimbledon (1975).

Ashe retired from tennis in 1980 after undergoing heart surgery in 1979. Doctors concluded he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during a heart-bypass operation in the late 1980s.

Ashe was active in the campaign against South Africa’s system of apartheid. In 1988 he published “A Hard Road to Glory,” a three-volume history of African American athletes. After disclosing his own illness in 1992, he worked on behalf of AIDS awareness and research. He completed his memoir, “Days of Grace,” shortly before his death.

Moutassamy-Ashe said she has kept copies of all the handwritten documents to be auctioned. She donated documents related to “A Hard Road to Glory” to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture not long after Ashe died. Other personal papers are in the care of the Arthur Ashe Learning Center. It’s her hope that they be displayed in the future at the National Museum of African American History and Culture that’s scheduled to open on the Mall in Washington in 2015.

“I’m getting his legacy positioned so that I won’t have to continue, nor will my daughter continue, to be the torch-bearer but instead move our lives forward and position Arthur’s legacy in a way that will be taken care of and documented for the ages,” Moutoussamy-Ashe said.

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