Oral Histories

Interview of Benny Sims, Jr.

Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. First African American head pro of Longwood Cricket Club. Sims first met Arthur Ashe in 1972 during Ashe’s visit to MacGregor Park in Texas.
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 African American head pro of Longwood Cricket Club. Sims first met Arthur Ashe in 1972 during Ashe’s visit to MacGregor Park in Texas.
Hester, Yolanda
Sims, Benny, Jr.
Persons Present:
Sims and Hester
Place Conducted:
St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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 Yolanda Hester, project director of the Arthur Ashe Oral History Project for the Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund at UCLA. Hester received her graduate degree in African American studies at UCLA and was hired by the fund to develop an oral history project and conduct interviews celebrating the legacy of Arthur Ashe. She prepared for the interviews by reading Arthur Ashe’s autobiographies (Advantage Ashe, Off the Court, and Days of Grace) and looking at a number of biographies, particularly Raymond Arsenault’s Arthur Ashe: A Life. She also read a number of articles on Arthur Ashe from newspapers and other publications.
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.
2 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.
Early life in Beaumont, Texas--Picking up tennis as a multi-talented athlete--Success at tennis in high school--Work with John Wilkerson at Texas Southern University--Integration versus segregation in Beaumont public parks--Trinity University in San Antonio--Tennis network in Texas--Meeting Arthur Ashe in 1972--Growing relationship with Ashe--Meeting Richard Hudlin--Crossing professional paths with Ashe in the United Kingdom--Staying with the Moores in 1976--Becoming head pro at Longwood Cricket Club in 1982--History of Longwood Cricket Club--Driving Ashe to Yale for his award ceremony--Coaching referral from Ashe for U.S. National Player Development Program--Tennis club culture and lack of diversity--Longwood’s desire to upgrade their program through hiring Sims--Experiences and legacy at Longwood--Offer from Ashe to become a national coach--Shadowing Ashe’s mentoring of young players through mentoring Chanda Rubin--Recollection of African American club members at Longwood--Sense of Ashe’s relationship to club culture--Tennis clubs holding onto discriminatory, exclusionist practices--Working with Ashe on the U.S. National Player Development Program--Friendship between Ashe and Walt Hazzard--Ashe’s illness and subsequent death--Importance of Ashe’s legacy beyond tennis.