Richmond celebrates formal renaming of Arthur Ashe Boulevard

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Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney claps after unveiling the he Arthur Ashe Blvd. signs during a renaming the boulevard ceremony at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, Va., Saturday, June 22, 2019. (Alexa Welch Edlund/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Groundbreaking black tennis player Arthur Ashe Jr.’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia has renamed a major thoroughfare after him, after years of effort.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that thousands of people attended Saturday’s ceremony to celebrate the formal renaming of Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

The event drew several elected officials. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, renowned civil rights activist, urged the crowd to remember Ashe’s legacy. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond, called the new name “an act of healing.”

Ashe was the first black player selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team and the only black man to ever win the singles title at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

He also was a well-known philanthropist who promoted education and civil rights.

Ashe’s once-segregated hometown boasts an athletic center named after him, and a bronze sculpture of Ashe sits among Richmond’s many Confederate statues. But a proposal to rename a historic street for Ashe was been defeated twice since his death in 1993.

Ashe’s nephew, David Harris Jr., helped spearhead the successful effort to rename the busy 2.4-mile (3.9-kilometer) street previously known simply as “Boulevard.” Dotted with restaurants, museums and stately homes, the street is modeled after European boulevards in the late 19th century.

At one end sits Byrd Park, with tennis courts where Ashe was denied access during his childhood because of segregation.

The Richmond City Council voted earlier this year to approve the name change over the objection of some city residents. They had said there were better ways to honor Ashe than legally changing the name of the street.

The newly named street comes at a time when Richmond, a one-time capital of the Confederacy, has been grappling with calls to remove Confederate statues.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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