In 1973, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to play in the South African Open. His visa application to play in the tournament had been twice denied. Frank Waring, the Minister of Sport in the apartheid regime, said that Ashe had a “general antagonism toward South Africa” and that the trip would be an “attempt to put a crack in the racist wall down there.”
In response to being shut out of the tournament, Ashe began lobbying the tennis governing bodies to take action against the country’s tennis officials and expel them from Davis Cup competitions. With South Africa facing mounting international pressure, it finally granted Ashe a visa in 1973 to play in the tournament.
In prison now for over a decade for conspiring to overthrow the South African government, Nelson Mandela wrote Ashe a letter. “The best thing you can do is ask the South Africans what you can do to help in their struggle,” Mandela said.
On his trip through one of the black townships, a young boy said to Ashe, “You are the first truly free black man I have ever seen.”
Ashe would lose in the finals of the South African Open to Jimmy Connors, but he won the doubles with Tom Okker of the Netherlands.
In 1985, Ashe was arrested for protesting apartheid at the South African embassy in Washington.
And That’s a Fact!