5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Arthur Ashe

On April 8, 1992, tennis champion Arthur Ashe held a news conference to announce he had AIDS. It was believed he contracted the HIV virus from a tainted blood transfusion. Here are 5 things you probably didn't know about Arthur Ashe.


He Was The First Black Man to be Ranked No. 1 In The World Ashe was a five-time Grand Slam champion and had 47 titles over the course of his tennis career.  He is celebrated for his many accomplishments, one of which is that he’s the only black man to ever win the singles title at Wimbledon (1975). Ashe was also the first African American to: be on the U.S. Davis Cup team, win the U.S. Open title (1968), win the Australian Open (1970), and be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985). He is also the fist black man to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

He Served in the Army in the Late 1960s—But His Brother Saved Him From Vietnam Like many young men in the 1960s, Ashe served in the Army. However, he was able to avoid being sent to Vietnam because his brother, who was in the Marines, decided to head back to Vietnam a second time. His brother, Johnnie, had already served overseas and came home, but he knew that Arthur was at risk of being sent to Vietnam himself. Because the government had a policy that stopped siblings from being at war simultaneously, Arthur stayed in the United States while Johnnie returned to Vietnam. Johnnie made it back to the U.S. just in time to see his brother beat Tom Okker in five sets to claim his first U.S. Open, becoming the first African-American man to win a Grand Slam tournament.


He Received The Presidential Medal of Freedom On June 20, 1993, Ashe was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. Eight years prior, the tennis superstar was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. But his talents didn’t end there: he dabbled in writing, and even won a Sports Emmy for co-authoring the documentary, ‘A Hard Road to Glory’ with writer, producer, and author George Polivka.

He Announced He Had Aids On This Day in I988 In 1988, Ashe learned he had AIDS. It was believed he contracted the HIV virus from a tainted blood transfusion following a 1983 heart operation. Ashe kept his medical condition private until April 1992, when a newspaper informed him of its intention to run an article about his illness. Ashe decided to pre-empt the article and held a nationally televised press conference to announce he had AIDS. “Some of you heard that I had tested positive for HIV,” Ashe said. “That is indeed the case.” 

He Became An AIDS Activist After Contracting The Disease Ashe spent the remainder of his life working to raise awareness about the disease. After announcing his illness, Ashe created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. The History Channel writes, “He established tennis programs for inner-city children and campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. On February 6, 1993, Arthur Ashe died of complications from AIDS, at age 49 in New York City.  Ashe’s body later laid in state at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Virginia, where thousands of people lined up to pay their respects to the ground-breaking athlete and social activist.