# 2 Days of Grace – A Memoir by Arthur Ashe with Arnold Rampersad (1993) 317 p. (paperback)
The first time I saw a picture of Arthur Ashe I couldn’t help noticing how very handsome that man looked. Tall, distinguished, glasses, often serious or with that typical Arthur Ashe smirky smile on his face. When I started to be seriously interested in tennis I realized the accomplishments of this great man, and the amazing challenges he had to go through. For his Autobiography Ashe chose his co-writer wisely. Arnold Rampersad, a Trinidad and Tobago born biographer and literary critic, is Professor of English and the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. His books include works about W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson, and Ralph Ellison. The first volume of his Life of Langston Hughes was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Rampersad was able to add the political and sociological expertise and that’s why Days of Grace turned out to be more a serious discussion and a collection of observations on race, sports, patriotism, rather than a biography of the life of a highly successful international tennis player. In fact, the b/w photos in this book are in their majority non-tennis related.
Days of Graceis Arthur Ashe’s Autobiography. Arthur was born African American in Richmond, Virginia in 1943, at a time when the South was segregated. During his career, he won three Grand Slam titles, putting him among the best ever from the United States.
Ashe was awarded a tennis scholarship to UCLA in 1963, and became the first black player ever selected to the United States Davis Cup team in the same year..
In 1965, Ashe won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) singles title and contributed to UCLA’s winning the team NCAA tennis championship. Wikipedia writes: In 1968, Ashe won the United States Amateur Championships against Davis Cup Teammate Bob Lutz, and the inaugural US Open and aided the U.S Davis Cup team to victory. He is the only player to have won both of these amateur and open national championships in the same year. Concerned that tennis professionals were not receiving winnings commensurate with the sport’s growing popularity, Ashe supported formation of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). That year would prove even more momentous for Ashe when he was denied a visa by the South African government, thereby keeping him out of the South African Open. Ashe used this denial to publicize South Africa’s apartheid policies. In the media, Ashe called for South Africa to be expelled from the professional tennis circuit.
After turning professional in 1969, Ashe won his second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in 1970. In 1975, Ashe won Wimbledon, unexpectedly defeating Jimmy Connors in the final. He played for several more years, but after being slowed by heart surgery in 1979, he retired in 1980. Wikipedia adds: Ashe remains the only black man to ever win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, or Australian Open. He is one of only two men of black African ancestry to win a Grand Slam singles title, the other being France’s Yannick Noah, who won the French Open in 1983. In his 1979 autobiography, Jack Kramer, the long-time tennis promoter and great player himself, ranked Ashe as one of the 21 best players of all time.
Ashe crusaded for racial equality and social change throughout his lifetime. Days of Grace describes how he was “outed” by USA Today Newspaper and forced to hold a news conference stating that he had contracted HIV/AIDS after receiving a blood transfusion in the early 80’s while undergoing repair of his quadruple bypass surgery. Due to the fact that at that time the blood wasn’t tested for HIV/AIDS, Ashe was given contaminated blood.
Scholar Sandra Calhoune wrote: Arthur Ashe served as an inspiration to millions due to his establishing himself as one of the best tennis players in the world. His Autobiography is also the story of his struggle with HIV and the social stigma and fear surrounding this disease. It is the story of his awesome love affair with his wife, Jean, and the love he shared with his daughter, Camera.
After Ashe’s death in February of 1993, George Vecsey wrote in the New York Times Sports section in June of the same year: IF only Arthur Ashe could have shared his feelings in increments over the next 30 or 40 years, as a grand old man of sport and public activism. How much better it would have been to have Arthur Ashe available this month to comment on Wimbledon and Lani Guinier’s being scuttled by President Clinton.
Instead, Arthur Ashe died of AIDS in February, almost surely from two pints of blood from a transfusion after open-heart surgery. Knowing his time was limited, Ashe embarked on his final project, “Days of Grace,” with Arnold Rampersad, published this month by Alfred A. Knopf.
I’m sorry the book had to be written; I am better for having read it. Ashe takes all of us deep inside the consciousness of a highly educated, highly moral, highly visible African-American, which of course he always did.
Knowing he was dying, Ashe summoned up a jeremiad. “Being black is the greatest burden I’ve had to bear,” he told an interviewer.
Ashe describes his turmoil at a fund-raiser for AIDS research. He notices his daughter playing with a blond-haired doll given her by a close friend who is white. In the middle of this hectic day, this dying man must slip over and ask his wife, Jeanne, to hide the doll so African-Americans will not see it on television and say: “Is that brother sick or what? Somebody ought to teach that poor child about her true black self.” Then he must worry about offending his white friends.
I can’t help feeling that Ashe’s passing has deprived America of one of its most gifted and worthy citizens. Some commentator wrote that the power of this book derives from its having been written under a sentence of death. The AIDS virus had already reached an advanced stage when the book was begun in 1992, and the finishing touches were added by his widow, Jeanne, and his collaborator, Arnold Rampersad. For me, Days of Grace shows the incredible life of an unbelievable strong man who loved traditional values, individual achievement, and courage, in the face of injustice, bigotry, and racial divide.
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