Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Soul in Flight: A Memorial to Arthur Ashe

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This sculpture by Eric Fischl, unveiled in August 2000, honors tennis legend and humanitarian Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) and is located in an entrance garden adjacent to the principal stadium at the United States Tennis Center, also named in Ashe’s honor.

Ashe was born into humble beginnings in Richmond, Virginia. Following the premature death of his mother, Ashe was raised by his father Arthur Sr., a handyman and security officer with the Richmond recreation department. He learned to play tennis on a local public court there. In John McPhee’s book Levels of the Game the author describes an austere childhood of strict discipline, in which unable at first to afford a racket, Ashe practiced his tennis strokes with a broomstick. Thwarted by the racial segregation of Richmond, yet showing promise as a tennis player, Ashe relocated to Sumner High School in St. Louis at the invitation of a tennis official.

Ashe later attended U.C.L.A on a tennis scholarship. A member of ROTC, he completed basic training in Washington in the mid-1960s, was commissioned as a second lieutenant, and served as a data processor at the West Point United States Military Academy, all the while continuing his career as an amateur tennis star. In 1963 he was the first black athlete selected for the United States Davis Cup team, and in 1965 won the N.C.A.A. singles title. In 1968 he won the United States Open (then held at Forest Hills), the first African-American to do so.

Ashe would go on to be ranked number one in the world in professional tennis, winning 33 tournaments, serving as captain of the Davis Cup team and being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. Ashe, an outspoken proponent of human rights, was equally active in social causes, fighting to eliminate racism and poverty, and challenging apartheid in South Africa.

In 1988 Ashe contracted the AIDS virus following a blood transfusion during heart surgery, and died five years later as a result. In his last years he promoted opportunities for inner-city youth and founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health. Ashe was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1992, and in 1993 was awarded posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. In 1997 the new stadium in the expanded United States Tennis Center was named for him.

Long Island-based artist Eric Fischl (born 1948) was chosen through a competition to create this commemorative sculpture. Fischl, represented in numerous public and private collections, has a reputation for challenging, at times disturbing works of a contemporary nature. In his monument to Ashe, Fischl draws upon classical antecedents to create not a likeness of the athlete but a male nude that is a figural symbol of aspiration inspired by the motion of the tennis serve.

The monument sits within a landscape designed by Mark Sullivan of Paul Friedberg Associates, and includes biographical inscriptions as well as a quotation favored by Ashe: “From what we get we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” These words sum up Ashe’s contributions, and his ability to transcend center court to be a “citizen of the world”.

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Flushing Meadows Corona Park Pool & Rink

Flushing Meadows Corona Park Pool & Rink remains closed to the public until further notice. Some recreation centers are being used for COVID-19 testing and vaccination services, the Learning Bridges program, and critical seasonal training. Please visit our Recreation Centers page to find an alternate recreation center.

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