Interview of Otis Smith
Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. Between 1975 and 1976, ten-year-old Smith became the first non-white person to attain a membership to the Los Angeles Tennis Club after then honorary board member, Arthur Ashe, wrote a letter on his behalf.
- Purpose Served: An Oral History of the Exemplary Life of Arthur Ashe, 1943-1993
- African American HistorySports
- Biographical Note:
- Interviewed because of connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. Between 1975 and 1976, ten-year-old Smith became the first non-white person to attain a membership to the Los Angeles Tennis Club after then honorary board member, Arthur Ashe, wrote a letter on his behalf.
- Smith, Otis
- Persons Present:
- Smith and Nwonye.
- 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 Chinyere Nwonye, an interviewer for the Arthur Ashe Oral History project as part of the UCLA Arthur Ashe Legacy Center. Chinyere is a graduate of UCLA with a background in neuroscience and African American Studies. The interviewer prepared for the interview by researching the National Junior Tennis League. She also read 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 Daily Bruin. For oral history methodology she read select chapters of Don Ritchie’s Doing Oral History; Valerie Yow’s Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences; Robert Weiss’ Learning from Strangers; and she watched several oral histories from the Library of Congress. She also watched HBO’s Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World and BBC’s Arthur Ashe: More than a Champion Additionally, the narrator referenced an article titled “The Difference between Arthur Ashe and Tiger Woods,” which was written by Larry Tubelle for the April 2003 issue of Inside Tennis. The article includes a copy of the letter Arthur Ashe wrote to the Los Angeles Tennis Club board of directors, advocating on Mr. Smith’s behalf, and a second letter from Ashe expressing his congratulations after the board agrees to make Smith a member.
- 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 hr
- 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.
Otis Smith is born in New York in 1965 – Family moves to Los Angeles, California ins 1969 –Begins tennis lessons in 1971 at the Los Angeles Tennis Club near family home – LATC member questions his ability to play at the club – Coach attempts to get him a junior membership despite whites-only membership policy – Arthur Ashe receives letter from club employee Larry Tubelle about Smith and threatens to resign his honorary LATC board membership – Smith becomes first Black member of LATC around 1975 – Meets Ashe later that year at the Alan King Tennis Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada – Racial awakening while playing junior tournaments in the South -– Plays tennis at UCLA from 1985-1987 – Plays on the professional circuit for nine years – Returns to UCLA and graduates in 2001 – Gets involved with the National Junior Tennis League and joins the national board in 2018.