Black and White at Center Court: Arthur Ashe and the Confrontation of Apartheid in South Africa


  • Eric J. Morgan

  • The author would like to thank Bob Schulzinger, Tom Zeiler, Lucy Chester, Andy DeRoche, and the anonymous readers for their helpful criticism and suggestions. Early versions of this article were delivered at the Missouri Valley History Conference and the Annual Conference of the North American Society for Sport History. The author thanks the late Ross Horning, Geoff Smith, and Barbara Keys for their insightful commentaries. Tom Noer provided additional feedback on a related paper on tennis and the Davis Cup at the Conference on Cold War Cultures: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives.


At a time when both the internal and global movements against apartheid in South Africa were at low ebb, African-American tennis star Arthur Ashe was successful in focusing the attention of the American public, the Nixon White House, and the international sporting community on South Africa. Ashe was also able to focus the attention of the South African government on the concerns of the anti-apartheid movement. Through his confrontation of apartheid, Ashe also underlined the anti-apartheid movement's struggle over how best to confront South Africa, through engagement or isolation. While Ashe strove to visit South Africa, other forces within the anti-apartheid movement championed boycotts and protests. These two competing visions led to much strife within the movement, and were an important component of the international debate over how to deal with apartheid and racial injustice in South Africa. Ashe traveled across several borders—both real and imagined—to emerge as a crucial transnational actor within the anti-apartheid movement in the early 1970s.