In 1960, this ranch house in Richmond Heights was brand new; its occupants were a pair of gifted tennis players, Richard and Jane Hudlin. Richard, a former American Tennis Association champion, might’ve had a brilliant sports career—had it not been for Jim Crow. So he channeled his energy into mentorship, giving free tennis lessons to kids in Fairgrounds Park and sending droves of players to ATA competitions. And he searched for a player who could break the color barrier in tennis.
In 1960, Hudlin learned of a raw talent through a friend; he invited that Virginia teenager, Arthur Ashe, to move to St. Louis to train. The 17-year-old lived with the Hudlins for 10 months, attending Sumner High School. What St. Louis offered, in addition to Hudlin’s military-strict training (push-ups right out of bed, steak for dinner, laps around the track after tennis practice), was de facto rather than de juresegregation. Here, it wasn’t illegal for Ashe to step onto a court with white players, or to compete in official tennis events.
“When I got here in 1960, I was a kid who knew only how to cover the court and keep the ball in play, ” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1972. “When I left, I had a reasonable facsimile of a serve and a volley, and I knew I was on my way up.” On his arrival, he began training with coach Larry Miller; in the winter, he switched to “playing tennis every day and every night” on the wooden courts at the St. Louis Armory. Still, very much a teen, Ashe ached for his friends back home and chafed at Hudlin’s boot camp approach. But in 1962, after he triumphed in a four-hour match to win the National Junior Indoor Championship in St. Louis, Sports Illustrated took notice.
During his ’72 visit, Ashe told the Post rule changes allowed black athletes to play on World Championship Tennis courts, but “we are barred from playing in their tournaments. I’m going to enter the Wimbledon tournament in England and the United States Championships at Forest Hills anyway.” In 1975, Ashe became the first black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon. Though Hudlin died a year later, he lived to see Ashe’s triumph—and to see tennis, the most segregated sport in America, changed forever.
Article originally posted by STLMag