By James Moore
DURHAM – Most sports fans are familiar with legendary tennis star Arthur Ashe and his historical achievements: the first Black man to win a Grand Slam title in the U.S. Open; the first Black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team; and the only Black player ever to win the singles’ title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open before retiring in 1980. However, what the casual lover of the sport can’t assimilate is how everything for Ashe came to fruition, and how his younger brother Johnnie made sure that he was with his brother every step of the way, even sacrificing his own dreams and aspirations to help his brother change the history of tennis forever.
Judy Allen-Dodson is author of the newly published children’s book, “The Ashe Brothers: How Arthur and Johnnie Changed Tennis Forever,” released on Jan. 1.
Allen-Dodson is a librarian, archivist, genealogist, and avid history and sports fanatic. She got the idea to tell this story after seeing Johnnie Ashe speak about his older brother in a warm and heartfelt statement on ESPN Films: 30 for 30 titled “Arthur and Johnnie.”
While indulging in her daily dose of ESPN, where Allen-Dodson usually finds her inspiration, she was amazed by the compassion and love that Johnnie expressed for his late older brother, leading her to write about the incredible sacrifice he made for Arthur.
“This story is a fairly new story, no one knew about Johnnie’s sacrifice that he made for his brother up until about 10 years ago,” she said. “Arthur didn’t even know for a long time what Johnnie did for him.”
Allen-Dodson loved a lot of things about this impeccable story of the two brothers, but she voiced several biggish reasons for capitalizing on this infrequently told story.
“I wanted communities, and mostly siblings, to know about this story. My goal was to shed a light on the love and support that will elevate us to the next level, that’s what we should do for each other. That’s what we need to do for each other.”
In 1967, Johnnie, who was already on active duty in the military during the Vietnam War, signed up for a second tour in order to keep Arthur from being drafted. At that time, the military never sent siblings into combat zones at the same time.
“I went to my first sergeant to talk to him, and I told him that Arthur Ashe, the tennis player, is my brother; he’s in the army right now, and there’s a possibility that he would have to serve a tour in Vietnam unless I stay another tour,” Johnnie said in the film. His sergeant replied, “You’re a good Marine. We need good Marines in Vietnam.”
With little to no knowledge of why Johnnie wanted to return to war, Arthur went on and created history by breaking the color barrier in tennis on Sept. 8, 1968, becoming the first Black man to win a Grand Slam title.
Who can say that a single person is responsible for his own success? Although Arthur Ashe had the talent and intelligence to succeed in the long run, there will always be that “what if” factor floating around if his younger brother’s charitable acts weren’t motivated by altruism.