Oral Histories

Interview of Leonard Dodson

Leonard Dodson and Arthur Ashe developed a friendship while both students at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Both entered UCLA in 1961 as student-athletes and lived in Sproul Hall.
Purpose Served: An Oral History of the Exemplary Life of Arthur Ashe, 1943-1993
African American History
Biographical Note:
Leonard Dodson and Arthur Ashe developed a friendship while both students at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Both entered UCLA in 1961 as student-athletes and lived in Sproul Hall.
Nwonye, Chinyere
Persons Present:
Nwonye and Dodson.
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 and graduate student researcher for the Arthur Ashe Oral History Project at UCLA. Chinyere is a Master of Public Policy Student at UCLA in the Luskin School of Public Affairs with a background in African-American Studies. Nwonye prepared for the interview by reading 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; various archival articles from the Los Angeles Times and Daily Bruin. Nwonye also reviewed A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete.
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.
Leonard Dodson was born in Los Angeles, California on June 13, 1943 – Family moved to Fontana, CA due to safety concerns (1949) – Father passed away (1952) – Accepted a scholarship offer to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) (1961) – Met Arthur Ashe in Sproul Hall during freshman year – Ashe gave Dodson a racquet and finally convinced him about the difficulty of tennis after playing against each other – Dodson and Ashe watched foreign films together – Dodson’s stay at Ashe’s apartment – The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), a requirement for all male students until 1962 – Dodson coached at the University of Heidelberg in Germany after graduating in 1966 – Ashe announced diagnosis with HIV/AIDS (1992) – Final memories of Ashe