Oral Histories

Interview of Kevin Dowdell

Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. Dowdell ran Arthur Ashe’s youth tennis program in the late 80s and 90s.
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. Dowdell ran Arthur Ashe’s youth tennis program in the late 80s and 90s.
Hester, Yolanda
Dowdell, Kevin
Persons Present:
Hester and Dowdell
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:
Yolanda Hester, as Oral History Coordinator for the UCLA Arthur Ashe Legacy Archive Project in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA School of Arts and Architecture. Hester is an alumni of UCLA having received her graduate degree in African American Studies. Hester prepared for this interview by conducting extensive research on Arthur Ashe, youth tennis programs. She reviewed numerous articles, books and research materials including all of Ashe’s autobiographies: “Advantage Ashe,” Off the Court,” and “Days of Grace.” She also read “A Life” by Ray Arsenault.
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 without further editing or review on the part of the Arthur Ashe Legacy at UCLA.
4 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.
Dowdell was born in Schenectady, New York-Introduction to tennis as a child-Schenectady during the 70s-Meeting Inderjit Singh-Racial dynamic in Schenectady-Growing up in Niskayuna-Tennis viewed as a “country club” sport by African Americans-His parents supported him in tennis-The satisfaction of winning.
A pivotal moment in tennis for Dowdell-Dealing with racism in tennis-Advice from Arthur Ashe-Playing his first tournament at 14-Making the New York State High School Championships semi-finals-Deciding to attend Princeton-Meeting Arthur Ashe in 1982-Fateful moment at Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy-Newark Tennis Project launched in 1989-Speaking with Ashe regarding your tennis program consulting-Becoming a consultant to the Newark Project-Expanding the program to Kansas City-Missing his flight-Ashe and Civil Rights-The importance of The American Tennis Association-TransAfrica-Working to establish ABC in Kansas City-Getting the community on board-Challenges of securing funding-Community support for the program-“Teach the game of life through the game of tennis.” -Details of the programming.
A fundraising event with Ashe in Kansas City-Board dynamics of the Safe Passage Foundation-The difficulty of offering free programming-Expanding the program too Albany and Schenectady with Hern Shultz-15-Love-Ashe disclosing his illness-Transitioning to the Safe Passage Foundation-Funding the new foundation-LA Riots.
Ashe disclosing his illness to Dowdell-Traveling with Ashe to Wimbledon-Tennis exhibition of African American players-The responses to Magic Johnsons and Ashe’s HIV/AIDS disclosures-National Junior Tennis League-at The impact of the Safe Passage Programs-Magic Johnson and Arthur Ashe clarification-Establishing the Athletic Career Connection program-A visit to Seton Hall with Ashe-The SPF after Ashe’s passing-John McEnroe support for the SPF-The legacy of the SPF-Ashe, Bob Davis and Dowdell run a stop light in Kansas City-Ashe and representation-Ashe attending Haitian protest-Kansas BBQ-Reflecting back on his relationship with Ashe.