RICHMOND, Va. -- Arthur Ashe, a ground-breaking tennis player and civil rights activist, 'turned stumbling blocks into stepping stones,' the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at a funeral befitting a statesman.
More than 6,000 people jammed the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center for the three-hour service Wednesday.
His hometown, which once barred him from playing with whites on a tennis court, embraced him at his final return -- every local television station carried the funeral live.
The parade of speakers hailed Ashe as a dignified, cerebral pioneer -- a contemporary mixture of Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall.
'Arthur chose to play tennis,' said Andrew Young, formerly a mayor of Atlanta, congressman, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who delivered the eulogy.
'And in choosing to play tennis, he was a black man in a white man's world playing a white man's game in white folks' country clubs, coping with race and class every day of his life,' said Young, who officiated at the wedding of Ashe and his wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy, on Feb. 20, 1977.
Ashe was a proud, solitary man who never was lonely, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder told the 6,000 family members, friends, old tennis buddies, fellow activists and admirers who packed the arena.
'As we all know, no man ever treasured friendship and family more than Arthur,' said Wilder, who first Ashe when the future tennis great was practicing the groundstrokes and serve that would make him famous.
'Here was a young boy, no older than 5 or 6, practicing tennis alone in a city park,' Wilder said.
The list of orators, all friends of Ashe, was virtually a who's who of influencial African-Americans: Wilder, Jackson, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, New York City Mayor David Dinkins, Trans-Africa President Randall Robinson, U.S Olympic Committee President Leroy Walker and Richmond Mayor Walter Kenney.
Jackson and others noted that Ashe was a pioneer in the white world of tennis.
'He was on trial every day,' Jackson said. 'He never let his guard down, always kept his racquet ready. ... He turned stumbling blocks into stepping stones.'
Other speakers included Ashe's fellow U.S. Davis Cup team members, Donald Dell, Stan Smith and Charlie Pasarell. Other tennis heroes on hand included Yannick Noah and Rod Laver.
Ashe, 49, died of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York Saturday. Last spring, he reluctantly acknowledged he contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion after he learned the media was about to break the news.
After Ashe initially denounced the invasion of his privacy, he became intensely involved in the movement to obtain more funding for AIDS research.
He created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, the goal of which is to raise $5 million by November to assist in the fight against the killer disease.
Ashe won the 1965 NCAA title at UCLA, the first U.S. Open in 1968, the 1970 Australian Open and the 1975 Wimbledon championships in a memorable upset of Jimmy Connors. He became a latter-day Renaissance man after a heart attack short-circuited his playing career in the late 1970s.
Ashe, who had written a 1974 tennis diary, 'Poetry in Motion,' wrote an 1981 autobiography, 'Off the Court.' In 1988, he wrote a three-volume history of black athletes, 'A Hard Road to Glory,' and won an Emmy Award for writing for the television documentary based on that book.
'I think he left us with an improved world,' said Smith. 'And I think his tennis exploits really pale in comparison with what he's done in the past 10 years. He is my hero.'
His eclectic post-tennis life also included strident activism for causes such as denouncing apartheid in South Africa and ending deportation of Haitian refugees. Last fall, authorities in Washington arrested Ashe for participating in a demonstration against the U.S. government's policy on Haitians.
He was laid to rest next to his mother, Mattie Ashe, in Woodland Cemetery. The city manager in this former Confederate capital ordered a $50,000 cleanup of the cemetery before his private burial.
Dinkins left a simple and eloquent tribute.
'Let me say it as forcefully as I can: Arthur Ashe was just plain better than most of us,' Dinkins said. 'It is said that service to others is the rent you pay for your space on earth. Arthur is paid in full.'