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A boulevard named Arthur Ashe

City Council approves street to honor Richmond legend

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/14/2019, 6 a.m.
From now on, it will be Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
Arthur Ashe

From now on, it will be Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

As it turns out, the third time was the charm for the effort to rename the Boulevard for Richmond-born tennis great and humanitarian Arthur Robert Ashe Jr.

During a turbulent Black History Month that has put Virginia in the spotlight on racial issues, the Richmond City Council Monday night overwhelmingly approved renaming the street — an honor that the governing body had rejected twice before in the 26 years since Mr. Ashe’s death on Feb. 6, 1993.

Despite months of controversy, the Arthur Ashe Boulevard proposal that Mayor Levar M. Stoney co-patroned sailed through on an 8-0 vote, with the abstention of 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, who objected to using taxpayer dollars to pay for new signs.

At least four members of the council, including sponsor 2nd District Councilwoman Kim B. Gray, came into the meeting committed to voting for the proposal. Passage was assured when 4th District Councilwoman Kristen N. Larson, who is part of a tennis-playing family, broke her public silence and announced she would support the change.

In many ways, the vote represented the council’s effort to promote racial reconciliation and healing in the year Virginia will mark the arrival of the first Africans 400 years ago.

Ms. Gray, who spearheaded the new renaming effort, was overjoyed with the nearly unanimous support from colleagues after a bumpy few months of controversy. Some Boulevard residents and business operators decried the change, saying they wanted to keep the plain Boulevard name that dates back more than a century.

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City Councilwoman Kim B. Gray get a huge hug from a supporter after Monday night’s vote to rename the Boulevard in honor of Arthur Ashe Jr.

“Today, we sent a positive and inspirational message to our Commonwealth, our nation and the international community that the Richmond of today is making great strides to remove the shackles of much of its history and stands ready to be a great international city that is welcoming to all,” Ms. Gray said after the vote.

Contractor David O. Harris Jr., a nephew of Mr. Ashe, was near tears after the vote. Last year, he had set the proposal in motion in urging Ms. Gray to make a third attempt to change the street’s name.

He said Mr. Ashe’s relatives only asked that the city give Mr. Ashe due recognition. After the vote, he said that he’s thrilled that Richmond has taken the opportunity to more fully recognize a person “who is still influencing us today.”

Mr. Ashe won international recognition as the first black man to reach the pinnacle of the sport through his three Grand Slam victories at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He would use his position to highlight forgotten African-American athletes, fight oppression in South Africa and Haiti, and become an AIDS activist and take other stands.

Once-segregated Richmond, which Mr. Ashe was forced to leave to pursue his sport, previously named the public school system’s basketball and convocation center that sits on the Boulevard after Mr. Ashe and also put up a statue to him in 1996 on Monument Avenue that is laden with monuments to Confederates.