Ashe honor weighed amid black­face scan­dal

Re­nam­ing boule­vard for ten­nis great de­bated

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY DENISE LAVOIE

RICH­MOND | A move­ment to re­name a Rich­mond thor­ough­fare for ground­break­ing black ten­nis player Arthur Ashe Jr. is crest­ing just as the state finds it­self in tur­moil over a black­face scan­dal in­volv­ing the gover­nor and at­tor­ney gen­eral.

The man be­hind the street re­nam­ing says the con­flu­ence of the two un­re­lated de­vel­op­ments in­volv­ing race and his­tory could be­come an op­por­tu­nity to start a con­ver­sa­tion about race at a piv­otal time.

“If we can re­name the Boule­vard af­ter him, it would be a huge cul­tural step for­ward. This is where we can start with rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and we can start talk­ing about the is­sues,” says Ashe’s nephew, David Har­ris Jr.

“It would be an op­por­tu­nity for the City Coun­cil to be lead­ers on this. We know what’s go­ing on down the street at the state Capi­tol,” Mr. Har­ris said. “This would be a way for the City Coun­cil to say, ‘We want to show you the way.’”

Ashe’s once-seg­re­gated home­town boasts an ath­letic cen­ter named af­ter him, and a bronze sculp­ture of Ashe sits among Rich­mond’s many Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues. But a pro­posal to re­name a his­toric street for Ashe has been de­feated twice since his death in 1993.

A third pro­posal comes be­fore the City Coun­cil for a vote Mon­day amid the black­face scan­dal.

Lead­ers through­out Vir­ginia’s po­lit­i­cal struc­ture have called on Gov. Ralph Northam to re­sign af­ter a racist photo on his 1984 med­i­cal school year­book page sur­faced re­cently. Mr. Northam apol­o­gized, ini­tially say­ing he ap­peared in a photo show­ing one man in black­face and another wear­ing a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Mr. Northam did not say which cos­tume he wore.

The next day he said he no longer be­lieved he was in the photo, but ac­knowl­edged wear­ing black­face the same year to look like Michael Jack­son in a dance con­test.

Days af­ter Mr. Northam’s ad­mis­sion, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring was forced to ac­knowl­edge that he, too, wore black­face in the 1980s while try­ing to look like a rap­per at a col­lege party.

Mean­while, for all of Rich­mond’s home­town pride in Ashe, re­peated at­tempts to re­name a city street af­ter him have failed. Mr. Har­ris ini­tially res­ur­rected the idea of re­nam­ing the street af­ter his un­cle last year.

Called sim­ply “Boule­vard,” it’s a busy 2.4-mile stretch dot­ted with restau­rants, mu­se­ums and stately homes. Mod­eled af­ter grand Euro­pean boule­vards in the late 19th cen­tury, Boule­vard was des­ig­nated as a state and na­tional his­toric land­mark in 1986.

At one end sits Byrd Park, with ten­nis courts where Ashe was de­nied ac­cess dur­ing his child­hood be­cause of seg­re­ga­tion. The ath­letic cen­ter named for Ashe is also on Boule­vard.

City Coun­cil mem­ber Kim Gray, whose dis­trict cov­ers a por­tion of Boule­vard, has spon­sored the Ashe re­nam­ing or­di­nance.

Some res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers say they don’t want to change the his­toric name. Oth­ers cite the in­con­ve­nience and ex­pense of of­fi­cially chang­ing their ad­dress, in­clud­ing get­ting new let­ter­head and sig­nage.

Mr. Har­ris and Ms. Gray say they un­der­stand those con­cerns, but also be­lieve racism may un­der­lie some of the op­po­si­tion.

“I find it hard to be­lieve that people get that an­gry over sta­tionery,” said Ms. Gray, who said she has re­ceived racist emails over the pro­posal.

Long­time res­i­dents in­sist they have noth­ing but ad­mi­ra­tion for Ashe, but be­lieve there are bet­ter ways to honor him than legally chang­ing the name of their street. A group called the Boule­vard Coali­tion wants the Rich­mond His­tory and Cul­ture Com­mis­sion to hold ci­ty­wide com­mu­nity dis­cus­sions about how to honor Ashe and then make a rec­om­men­da­tion to the City Coun­cil.

The con­tro­versy comes at a time when Rich­mond, a one-time cap­i­tal of the Con­fed­er­acy, has been grap­pling with calls to re­move Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues. Rich­mond’s Mon­u­ment Av­enue fea­tures stat­ues of five Con­fed­er­ate fig­ures, in­clud­ing Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jack­son. Ashe’s statue was erected among those rebel icons in 1996, but only af­ter ran­corous de­bate.

Mr. Har­ris said re­nam­ing Boule­vard af­ter Ashe would give Rich­mond a chance to shed its past im­age and show it has be­come a pro­gres­sive city.

“We’ve cel­e­brated things that have been as­so­ci­ated with slav­ery for years. Well, let’s cel­e­brate equal­ity, in­clu­sion and di­ver­sity, as op­posed to the slave pic­ture we’ve had in Civil War his­tory,” Mr. Har­ris said.

Ashe was the first black player se­lected to the U.S. Davis Cup team and the only black man to ever win the sin­gles ti­tle at the U.S. Open, Wim­ble­don and the Aus­tralian Open. He was also well-known for pro­mot­ing ed­u­ca­tion and civil rights, op­pos­ing apartheid in South Africa and rais­ing aware­ness about AIDS, the dis­ease that even­tu­ally took his life.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A city coun­cil­woman and oth­ers are at­tempt­ing to get The Boule­vard in Rich­mond named af­ter ground­break­ing black ten­nis star Arthur Ashe as the state finds it­self in tur­moil over the black­face scan­dal.

“Thank you to @marg­bren­nan for hav­ing me on @FaceTheNa­tion this morn­ing. These are dif­fi­cult times for our Com­mon­wealth, but if we don’t ad­dress the Vir­ginia of the past, we can’t lead the Vir­ginia of the fu­ture.” — Rep. Jen­nifer Wex­ton, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, on Twit­ter

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