On this day in 1985 Arthur Ashe and 46 other protesters were arrested for their demonstration against apartheid outside the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. Wrote the Washington Post the next day:
Ashe, 41, who has traveled widely in South Africa, said he identifies with those who suffer under that country’s apartheid policies because he had grown up in Virginia when racial segregation was legal in the United States.
“I speak with a great deal of personal experience,” said Ashe, a founder of Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid. “I went through a segregated school system and a segregated society.”
This was not the only time that Virginia had been compared unfavorably to other parts of the world. Our entry on the Moton School Strike in Prince Edward County mentions a 1963 speech by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, in which he noted that “the only places on earth not to provide free public education are Communist China, North Vietnam, Sarawak, Singapore, British Honduras—and Prince Edward County, Virginia. Something must be done about Prince Edward County.”
And something was, eventually. By why dwell on the negative? While Ashe may have grown up living in the middle of a segregated Richmond playground, he still grew up in the middle of a playground! And of course he became the first black man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
IMAGE: Arthur Ashe by Jack Robinson (The Jack Robinson Archive)