Arthur Ashe Boulevard ‘finally’ coming to fruition after years of talk

Arthur Ashe Boulevard ‘finally’ coming to fruition after years of talk

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Boulevard, one of Richmond’s most popular streets, will officially be renamed in honor of one of the city’s most popular residents, Arthur Ashe, Jr, on June 22.

Ashe was an athlete, an activist and most importantly, a true gentleman whose life on and off the tennis court continues to impact the world, even almost 30 years after his death.

It is for those reasons, many people say this recognition is long overdue.

“Oh man, we had a lot of excitement. A lot of folks were like ‘finally,’" David Harris, Ashe’s nephew said.

Like anyone who completes a long journey, Harris is excited, yet exhausted after working to gain Ashe the recognition for two years.

That’s two years of conversations, council meetings and cold responses over a topic which has been discussed in off and on for nearly three decades.

But after all the back and forth, “Uncle Arthur” as Harris calls him will have another lasting tribute in his hometown.

Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. was a hometown hero for Richmond and already has a statue on Monument Avenue and a building named in his honor.

But Harris, and others, believed Ashe deserved more.

“You have Jefferson Davis Highway. You have Stuart Circle. Those guys have statues, too. So, why not acknowledge our black heroes and their accolades with a street and a statue?" Harris said. "Look at the history and look at my uncle’s background, and the things that he did. It’s a pretty easy no-brainer.”

The Arthur Ashe Monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond.
The Arthur Ashe Monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond. (Source: NBC12)

Ashe was born in Richmond in 1943, where he first picked up a tennis racket at 6 years old.

From that moment on, his talent on the court lead him to become a young man of quite a few firsts.

In 1960, he became the first African American to win the National Junior Indoor Tennis Tournament. He eventually went on to become the first black player selected for the U.S. Davis Cup team and the only black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.

The quiet, 6-foot-1 phenom became a household name all over the world.

“We never really talked about his accolades. We just said ‘Hey, this is uncle,’ and we’d be done with it, you know," Harris said. "If we went to the movies, if we were running a little late, we were going to be stopped in the parking lot, and you know, he acknowledged us. He acknowledged all of us.”

This is why Harris took on this grueling race for recognition, pushing to have his uncle acknowledged just a little bit more here in Richmond, a city with a segregated past that ultimately helped to shape Ashe into the athlete, Army officer, advocate and author many remember.

It is also a city which finally decided to go down a new road and honor the contributions he made not just here at home, but around the world.

“One of the most exclusive streets in the city. Full circle in life. Finally,” Harris said. “It’s still a lot to learn from him, even though he is not here with us. We’re still learning, and this is our opportunity to make history together. Active history, which is not something we really get a chance to do.”

Even with the dedication of Arthur Ashe Boulevard on Saturday, Harris said the journey will not end there.

There are still many more ideas in the works to further Ashe’s mission of helping the community.

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