Byrd Park has been in the news recently. First, protestors tore down the Christopher Columbus statue and threw it into a lake. Less than two weeks later, the nearby Arthur Ashe statue was vandalized. For many decades, the park in Richmond, Va., has been the site of turbulent history.
In the 1950's, Ashe was not allowed to play tennis in Byrd Park, but now, the park sits on a boulevard bearing his name. So while yes, it's a site of dark history, it's also a place where change materializes into reality.
"Arthur was not allowed to play tournaments in Byrd Park because he was black," Donald Dell said on the TENNIS.com Podcast. Dell was Ashe's longtime agent, friend and the Davis Cup captain when Ashe helped the U.S. win in 1968 and '69.
"So when I became Davis Cup Captain in '68, the very first thing I did, our first match, was against the British West Indies an all-black team. And guess where I scheduled them at? Byrd Park, Richmond, Virginia," Dell said. "That wasn't by accident."
As the leading U.S. player that year, Ashe was a big draw for the Davis Cup tie in his home town. When he made his debut in 1963, he was the first African-American to compete on the U.S. Davis Cup team.
"The place went absolutely berserk, to cheer Arthur and the crowds were tremendous," Dell said. "The British West Indies was not a good team. They had a couple of good players, but they weren't going to beat us, and that sort of started to open up a segregated park, which Arthur had lived in and grown up in."
A few months later, Ashe would become the first African-American man to win the US Open. He'd go on to win the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. In 10 years of representing his country, he would help the U.S. win six Davis Cup titles.