Oral Histories

Interview of Lenward Simpson

Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. He was a lifelong close friend of Ashe. They met during childhood.
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. He was a lifelong close friend of Ashe. They met during childhood.
Hester, Yolanda
Simpson, Lenward
Persons Present:
Hester and Simpson.
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, 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. The interviewer prepared for the 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.
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.
Simpson was born in North Carolina-Introduction to tennis during childhood-Sneaking onto the Eaton’s property to watch tennis-Meeting Althea Gibson-Hubert and Celeste Eaton-Training Althea Gibson-Dr. Eaton’s and Dr. Johnson tennis camp idea-Challenges for African American junior tennis players-Eaton’s Black Country Club-Succeeding in tennis during childhood-attending Dr. Robert Walter Johnson’s summer tennis camp-Meeting Arthur Ashe-Lesson learned at the tennis camp-She’s personality-Simpson and Ashe’s friendship-Trouble in Kalamazoo-Dr. Johnson preparing players to deal with racism-Traveling during segregation-Breaking the color line.
The four Black pillars of tennis-Pressures of being on Dr. Johnson’s junior team-Dealing with racism during the junior tournaments-Playing his first US Open in 1964-Segregation at the US Open-Attending boarding school-Played tennis through college-US Open 1968-Ashe’s. Trip to South Africa-Supporting youth organization-Tribute to Ashe in New York-Ashe’s health issues-Ashe becoming a father-National Junior Tennis League-Meeting John McEnroe-Ashe as Davis Cup captain-Ashe’s passing-Deliver his eulogy.