Oral Histories

Interview of Leslie Allen

Leslie Allen was interviewed about her connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. Through her mother, Sarah Allen, who was an accomplished tennis player in the American Tennis Association (ATA), Allen knew Ashe from the time she was born.
Purpose Served: An Oral History of the Exemplary Life of Arthur Ashe, 1943-1993
African American History
Biographical Note:
Leslie Allen was interviewed about her connection to tennis player Arthur Ashe. Through her mother, Sarah Allen, who was an accomplished tennis player in the American Tennis Association (ATA), Allen knew Ashe from the time she was born.
Nwonye, Chinyere
Persons Present:
Nwonye and Allen.
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:
Chinyere Nwonye, an interviewer for the Arthur Ashe Oral History project as part of the UCLA Arthur Ashe Legacy Center. Nwonye is a graduate of UCLA with a background in neuroscience and 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; and various archival articles from the Los Angeles Times and Daily Bruin. To get background on Ms. Allen, Nwonye also read several articles, including the WTA article “Leslie Allen reflects on landmark Detroit win” and the Andscape article “Tennis champ Leslie Allen takes USTA to taskover ‘tone-deaf’ statement.” Nwonye also read a Life magazine article titled “In Tennis, Blacks Take Center Court.” The article featured Ashe, Blount, Leslie Allen, Lawrence “Chip” Hooper III, Lloyd Bourne, and Kim Sands.
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.
3.25 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.
Leslie Allen was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1956 – Allen’s mother, Sarah Allen, became a champion player in the American Tennis Association (ATA) after witnessing a tournament at her university, Wilberforce – Nurturing ATA environment and Allen’s late tennis bloom – Tire punctured while traveling across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge en route to an exhibition – Filed a suit with Women’s Law Fund (1973) when prevented from entering a high school tournament – Ashe’s friendship with Sarah Allen – Bob Ryland – Allen begins her college career in 1973, ultimately ending up at the University of Southern California (USC) – Received a letter from Ashe while at USC – Graduating from USC in 1977 and Ashe raising money with Pyramid Tennis Association to send her to Australia ¬– Joined the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour after gaining world-ranking – Experienced microaggression in U.S. Tennis – Invited to train with Althea Gibson and other young Black women at Sportsmen’s Tennis Club in Boston, Massachusetts (1979) – Invited to Benin City, Nigeria in 1978 and 1979 by Andrew Young and the Ambassador to Nigeria, with Gibson during 1979 – Invited by South African Tennis Association in 1980 and consulted Ashe – Organized a photo between Gibson, Ashe, and Zina Garrison while working as a tour-manager – Retired from the professional tour in 1987 and working on the business side of tennis – Ran the Arthur Ashe Booth at the U.S. Open for over 15 years.
Attended Dr. Robert Walter Johnson’s camp two years in a row – Ashe’s significance in the ATA – Women and families who were in ATA leadership roles – Became the first Black tournament director – Worked on the business side of the WTA – Dismissed from the USTA after not bending to USTA lobbyists on the WTA board – Became USTA Presidential appointee under Katrina Adams – Origins of the Ashe U.S. Open Booth.