More than two dozen years after his death from complications related to HIV, late tennis legend Arthur Ashe was honored Saturday by his hometown of Richmond, Va., with the renaming of a boulevard.
What makes the formal renaming of Arthur Ashe Boulevard even more poignant in the southern city is that Richmond was once the capital of the pro-slavery Confederacy.
“This is truly a spectacular and momentous day,” Ashe’s nephew, David Harris Jr., said during the renaming ceremony.
Harris led the push to rename the boulevard after his late uncle, a humanitarian and activist who was the only Black American man to win Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and and Australian Open tennis titles.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the keynote speaker for the ceremony, protege of Martin Luther King and the last surviving organizer of the March on Washington, related Ashe’s recognition to this year’s 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans on the shores of Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“Think about Arthur Ashe, what he did, the contribution he made, coming out of this city, out of this state, out of this country,” Lewis told the crowd.
Ashe died in 1993 at age 49 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion during surgery. Three years later, Richmond unveiled a statue of Ashe at the end of its well-known Monument Avenue. The move generated much debate among residents at the time. He was the first and only Black American honored with a statue on the street.
During Saturday’s event, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who is Black, said Ashe was “the only true champion” on the avenue that features statues of various Confederate figures. Ashe Boulevard actually crosses Monument Avenue, the Times-Dispatch reports.
The mayor said the geography symbolizes the progress Richmond has ben making racially.
“By naming this boulevard after Arthur Ashe, we’re once again parting with our darker past and embracing our brighter future,” Stoney said.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., called the renaming “an act of healing,” the newspaper reports.