Photo courtesy of Raymond Turner
In 1960, Arthur Ashe’s life was suddenly changed when he was uprooted from Richmond, Virginia, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri for his senior year of high school. The move, while a shock to Ashe himself, was the result of a careful orchestration between Ashe’s mentor, Dr. Robert Walter Johnson; Johnson’s friend, Richard Hudlin; and Ashe’s father, Arthur Ashe Sr. The motivations for the move were multifold, however they were intrinsically linked to a central goal to secure Ashe a collegiate tennis scholarship.
Under racial segregation, Richmond provided limited opportunities for an aspiring Black tennis player. As Ashe’s biographer Raymond Arsenault describes, in order to fully develop his potential, Ashe needed persistent training, “professional coaching and sustained competition at the highest level possible.” While Brookfield Park harbored outdoor courts that were open to African Americans, Richmond’s temperamental weather rendered them inaccessible year-round. Indoor courts primarily resided in Richmond’s country clubs, yet the constraints of race, social class, geography or a combination of the three also left these clubs beyond reach to a young Ashe. Ashe’s potential was evident, he won two major American Tennis Association (ATA) titles in 1960, the Boys 18 and Under Singles and the Men’s Singles, and the U.S. National Indoor Junior Men’s Singles. He had firmly solidified himself as the best African-American male tennis player.
Moving to St. Louis, where he was less restricted by segregation, enabled him to train with a number of elite players year-round on both outdoor and indoor courts at Washington University and 138th Infantry Armory, respectively. Additionally, the arrangement in St. Louis also allowed Ashe to live with and play high school tennis for Coach Richard Hudlin at Charles Sumner High School.
Established in 1875, Sumner was the first high school for African-Americans west of the Mississippi River. Geographically, the school is bordered by a number of historical sites, including the headquarters of America’s first Black and first self-made female millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker; as well as the nation’s first teaching hospital for Blacks west of the Mississippi River, the Homer G. Phillips Hospital. Sumner also boasts a notable list of alumni apart from Ashe, including singers Tina Turner and Chuck Berry. In fact, Berry’s song “Johnny B Goode” is named after a local street in the neighborhood, Goode Avenue.
Ultimately, Ashe’s year in St. Louis proved worthwhile. Not only does he successfully defend his ATA Men’s Singles and U.S. National Indoor Junior titles, but he also becomes the first African-American to earn a tennis scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In this clip, you’ll hear fellow student and tennis teammate at Sumner High School, Raymond Turner as he vividly recounts his and Ashe’s first encounter.