Oral Histories

Interview of Kenneth Bentley

Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. First met Ashe as a high school student, in 1968. Board member of Arthur Ashe’s Safe Passage Foundation and the Arthur Ashe Learning Center.
Purpose Served: An Oral History of the Exemplary Life of Arthur Ashe, 1943-1993
African American History
Biographical Note:
Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. First met Ashe as a high school student, in 1968. Board member of Arthur Ashe’s Safe Passage Foundation and the Arthur Ashe Learning Center.
Nwonye, Chinyere
Bentley, Kenneth
Persons Present:
Bentley and Nwonye
Place Conducted:
Terasaki Life Science Building, University of California, Los Angeles.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Chinyere Jasmine Nwonye, an interviewer for the Arthur Ashe Oral History Project for the Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund at UCLA. Nwonye graduated from UCLA with a background in neuroscience and African American studies. The interviewer prepared for the interview by reading Arthur Ashe’s Advantage Ashe; Arthur Ashe and Neil Amdur’s Off the Court; Arthur Ashe and Arnold Rampersad’s Days of Grace: A Memoir; Raymond Arsenault’s Arthur Ashe: A Life; and various archival articles from the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Bruin. She also watched HBO’s Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World and the BBC’s Arthur Ashe: More than a Champion.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. The interviewee was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content.
1.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
Purpose Served: An Oral History of the Exemplary Life of Arthur Ashe, 1943-1993 is an initiative of the Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund (AALF) at UCLA and is funded by AALF and by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. By launching an oral history project to document and capture the firsthand recollections of Ashe’s colleagues, associates, family, and friends, UCLA was fulfilling its commitment to the Arthur Ashe Learning Center to document and disseminate the considerable impact of one of its most significant graduates.In his memoir Days of Grace Arthur Ashe stated, "I don't want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.” Although this series provides a comprehensive account of Ashe’s considerable accomplishments as a tennis player, it also offers a substantial number of first-person accounts of historical moments and stories beyond the scope of tennis. Ashe’s ascent in the tennis world coincided with many important developments in the sport: the onset of the Open Era, the shift from a mostly “country club” sport to the public arena, the commercialization of tennis, and the rise of the celebrity athlete. But his life also intersected with a number of significant milestone in the second half of the twentieth century, including the civil rights and women’s movements, the Vietnam War, the fall of apartheid in South Africa, and the AIDS/HIV crisis. In their reflections on Ashe’s work and activism, participants in this series share stories of his engagement with these crucial moments in U.S. history. Finally, the series also contains information about segregation; student life at UCLA in the 1960s; ROTC; West Point; Black life in Richmond, Virginia and St. Louis, Missouri; the work of TransAfrica and Artists and Athletes against Apartheid; and the relatively unknown histories of the American Tennis Association and Dr. Robert Walter Johnson’s Summer Tennis Camp.Interviewees were sought across the country and internationally, reflecting Ashe’s broad swath of associates and his status as a prominent athlete and a respected public intellectual. Although the series reflects his entire life, special attention was given to locating childhood friends, military associates, and fellow students in St. Louis and at UCLA. Participants who could speak of his devotion to support youth in the sport and his activism were also included in this series.The series commenced months before the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of the initial interviews align with traditional oral history methodology in being conducted in person. After stay-at-home orders were initiated across the country in March of 2020, interviews were conducted via the Zoom video conferencing platform. Many of these sessions were preserved on video recordings as well as audio recordings.
Born in South Central Los Angeles in 1951--Overview of life and career--Family background--Growing up in the Crenshaw community--Father formerly played in the Negro baseball leagues and teaches baseball to neighborhood children--Introduction to tennis--Meeting Arthur Ashe at the Pacific Northwest Tournament in 1968--Opening of Crenshaw High School and serving as first student body president--Engagement in Civil Rights Movement in Los Angeles--Facing discrimination in tennis in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles--Addressing discrimination, increasing diversity in the corporate workforce, and inviting Rosa Parks to speak--Attending and playing tennis at University of California, Santa Barbara and University of California, Irvine--Securing seed money and first corporate grant from Nestle for Ashe’s Safe Passage Foundation--Reading in-progress chapter of Ashe’s final memoir, Days of Grace--Serving on the board of Safe Passage and the Arthur Ashe Learning Center--Finding permanent home for Arthur Ashe Learning Center at UCLA--Origins of Advocates Pro Golf Tour--Remembering Ashe and following in his footsteps.