Oral Histories

Interview of Thomas Chewning

Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. Childhood friends in Richmond, VA. Met at an integrated tennis match in West Virginia and were not able to play each other in their hometown in Richmond, VA due to segregation.
Series:
Purpose Served: An Oral History of the Exemplary Life of Arthur Ashe, 1943-1993
Topic:
African American History
Sports
Biographical Note:
Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. Childhood friends in Richmond, VA. Met at an integrated tennis match in West Virginia and were not able to play each other in their hometown in Richmond, VA due to segregation.
Interviewer:
Hester, Yolanda
Interviewee:
Chewning, Tom
Persons Present:
Hester and Chewning
Place Conducted:
The interview was conducted using the Zoom video conferencing platform.
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. . The interviewer prepared by reading a number of Arthur Ashe’s autobiographies (“Ad-vantage Ashe,” “Off The Court,” “Days of Grace”) and biographies, particularly “A Life” by Ray Arsenualt.
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. The corrections made were entered into the text by Yolanda Hester, interviewer for the Arthur Ashe Oral History Project, an initiative of the Arthur Ashe legacy fund.
Length:
1.5 hrs
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
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 Richmond, Virginia in 1945-VA was segregated-Childhood and introduction to tennis-Playing at Byrd Park-Material culture and class dynamic of tennis-Meeting Arthur Ashe-Building a friendship with Ashe-Playing at Brook Field Park with Ashe-Segregation laws affect Ashe’s ability to play in Richmond-Chewning protesting segregation-Chewing starts to understand the impact of segregation-Ashe after his US Open win in 1968-Comparison of courts in Brook Field and Byrd Park-Social life at integrated matches-Incidents of racism at tournaments-Chewing played tennis in college-Chewing marries the same week Ashe wins the US Open-Ashe takes Chewning and his new wife out to dinner-Chewing moves back to Richmond with his family-Growing activism in Ashe-Involvement in Ashe’s tennis clinics-Ashe’s tennis clinic at Byrd Park-Meet Jeanne Ashe-Ashe’s health issues-Ashe’s disclosure that he had AIDS-Statue of Ashe in Richmond-Ashe’s legacy.