Oral Histories

Interview of Ken Chenault

Chenault was a friend of Arthur Ashe and was a foundational board member of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, for which he served many years.
Purpose Served: An Oral History of the Exemplary Life of Arthur Ashe, 1943-1993
African American History
Biographical Note:
Chenault was a friend of Arthur Ashe and was a foundational board member of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, for which he served many years.
Hester, Yolanda
Persons Present:
Session one included, Chenault, Hester and Molly Gillis (Partner and Chief of Staff of Chenault’s firm, General Catalyst). In session two, Chenault and Hester were joined by Bethany Dougherty, communication manager at General Catalyst.
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. Hester prepared for this interview by conducting extensive research on Arthur Ashe and the Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health. 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.
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.
Born in 1951 in Mineola, NY-Sports during childhood-grew up in racially diverse neighborhood-Star athletes he admired as a child-Ashe, US Open-Learning of Ashe in College-Playing tennis in childhood-Chenault’s interest in the Civil Rights Movement-Hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak-The impact of Athlete’s involvement in civil rights-Meeting Ashe in 1984-Their growing friendship.
Ashe overcoming obstacles-The impact of Ashe’s US Open win-Chenault’s father on Ashe-The anti-apartheid movement-Ashe’s trip to South Africa-Watching Ashe’s Wimbledon win-Ashe’s mentoring of Chenault-Their growing friendship-Advice from Ashe-Unaware of Ashe’s health issues-The HIV/AIDS Crisis-Establishing the Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health-Being on the Board of the institute-Ashe, a life of purpose.