Arthur Ashe Learning Center Honors A Tennis Legend and Social Visionary

The Arthur Ashe Learning Center opened this weekend in conjunction with the start of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York.

The Arthur Ashe Learning Center opened this weekend in conjunction with the start of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. It was founded and conceptualized by Ashe's wife, Jeanna Moutoussamy-Ashe.

Moutoussamy-Ashe paced the exhibit Friday, the day before it opened. She showed off the acrylic globe at the center of the tour, the one that played a video of Ashe’s life while a constellation of his quotations showed overhead in a mostly dark room.

She stood in the back, hands on hips, admiring her handiwork. The video highlighted Ashe’s background — birth in Richmond, Va., college at U.C.L.A., the stint in the Army, the tournaments won, the books he wrote, the social activism — while Moutoussamy-Ashe swayed slightly and smiled. The quotations flashed above her head.

“I was floored,” she said of the first time she saw the finished tour. “It’s something I really had in my head for the longest time. I’m an artist, but this feels more like you’re an architect. Every time I see it, I get goose bumps.”

The exhibit’s walls are adorned with pictures of Ashe, those big glasses, tennis racket in hand. Moutoussamy-Ashe guessed she took 80 percent of them. There are pictures of the two of them on their wedding day, Arthur clad in a fur coat; pictures of Arthur with a fan in Asia; Arthur at Wimbledon; Arthur speaking out about heart disease and AIDS.

According to his wife, the visionary of his time would also have a dim view of prize money it today's game. 

Moutoussamy-Ashe often wonders what her husband would make of 2013, what he would think about America 50 years after the March on Washington, what he would say to President Obama about politics and sports. She thinks that Ashe would have had a Twitter account, that he would have been engaged in dialogue about gay marriage and astounded by the prize money handed out at the United States Open. (The year Ashe won it, his wife pointed out, the prize money for the whole tournament was $100,000. As an amateur, he received only a small stipend for expenses, although upon his return to West Point — he was still in the Army — he was given a standing ovation in the commissary.)