The new CNN Film “Citizen Ashe” airs Sunday, June 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

(CNN)Arthur Ashe may have been most known for his tennis success, but it was his activism that set him apart off the court.

When not winning major tennis championships and breaking barriers in one of the most lily-white sports at the time, Ashe was a vocal advocate for civil rights, even getting arrested in 1985 for protesting apartheid outside the South African embassy. Documentary “Citizen Ashe” premieres Sunday, June 26, at 9 p.m. ET on CNN. It explores Ashe’s life as both a tennis player and an activist, but his civil rights activism is only a part of his legacy. The other? His HIV/AIDS advocacy. Ashe became one of the most famous HIV-positive figuresIt’s believed Ashe contracted HIV from a blood transfusion for an open-heart surgery, eventually learning of his condition in 1988.Read MoreAt the time, HIV/AIDS was heavily stigmatized. And Ashe, having retired from tennis eight years earlier, chose to keep his diagnosis a secret. That is, until 1992 — when USA Today contacted him saying it was about to break the story. So, on April 8, at a press conference with his wife, Ashe came forward. The reactions were largely positive, said Eric Allen Hall, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University and author of “Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era.” Ashe was a beloved figure at the time and many supported him. He had contacts around the world, endorsed products, sat on boards of corporations — he had even written a book, Hall said. President George H.W. Bush, a friend of the tennis icon, gave him a call following the reveal. “He was a squeaky clean figure, so it was hard to look at him and think ‘Oh, he deserves it because X, Y, and Z,’ like many folks would say when they would find out that somebody gay had AIDS, for instance, or a drug user had AIDS,” Hall said. “He was the ideal person to destigmatize the disease.”Arthur Ashe hits a shot at Wimbledon in 1969.Arthur Ashe hits a shot at Wimbledon in 1969. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheArthur Ashe hits a shot at Wimbledon in 1969.Hide Caption 1 of 22Ashe, far right, shakes hands with opponents at the Eastern Junior Tennis Championships in 1959. Ashe was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943 and began playing tennis at an early age. He first tested his skills on a Blacks-only playground in the city.Ashe, far right, shakes hands with opponents at the Eastern Junior Tennis Championships in 1959. Ashe was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943 and began playing tennis at an early age. He first tested his skills on a Blacks-only playground in the city. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe, far right, shakes hands with opponents at the Eastern Junior Tennis Championships in 1959. Ashe was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1943 and began playing tennis at an early age. He first tested his skills on a Blacks-only playground in the city.Hide Caption 2 of 22Ashe plays at Wimbledon in 1964. A year earlier, he won the NCAA title at UCLA and became the first African American to represent the United States in the Davis Cup.Ashe plays at Wimbledon in 1964. A year earlier, he won the NCAA title at UCLA and became the first African American to represent the United States in the Davis Cup. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe plays at Wimbledon in 1964. A year earlier, he won the NCAA title at UCLA and became the first African American to represent the United States in the Davis Cup.Hide Caption 3 of 22Ashe signs autographs for children in 1965.Ashe signs autographs for children in 1965. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe signs autographs for children in 1965.Hide Caption 4 of 22Ashe is interviewed by reporters at the US National Championships, now known as the US Open, in 1965.Ashe is interviewed by reporters at the US National Championships, now known as the US Open, in 1965. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe is interviewed by reporters at the US National Championships, now known as the US Open, in 1965.Hide Caption 5 of 22After graduating from UCLA, Ashe spent three years in the US Army. He continued to play in tennis tournaments during this time.After graduating from UCLA, Ashe spent three years in the US Army. He continued to play in tennis tournaments during this time. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAfter graduating from UCLA, Ashe spent three years in the US Army. He continued to play in tennis tournaments during this time.Hide Caption 6 of 22Ashe works with children during a tennis clinic in Washington, DC, in 1968.Ashe works with children during a tennis clinic in Washington, DC, in 1968. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe works with children during a tennis clinic in Washington, DC, in 1968.Hide Caption 7 of 22Ashe poses with other Davis Cup team members for a portrait in 1968.Ashe poses with other Davis Cup team members for a portrait in 1968. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe poses with other Davis Cup team members for a portrait in 1968.Hide Caption 8 of 22Ashe returns a shot during a Davis Cup match in Cleveland in 1968. The United States won the competition that year.Ashe returns a shot during a Davis Cup match in Cleveland in 1968. The United States won the competition that year. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe returns a shot during a Davis Cup match in Cleveland in 1968. The United States won the competition that year.Hide Caption 9 of 22Ashe is congratulated by his father, Arthur Ashe Sr., after winning the US Open in 1968. Ashe was the first Black man to win a grand slam singles title. He would also go on to win the Australian Open in 1970 and the US Open in 1975.Ashe is congratulated by his father, Arthur Ashe Sr., after winning the US Open in 1968. Ashe was the first Black man to win a grand slam singles title. He would also go on to win the Australian Open in 1970 and the US Open in 1975. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe is congratulated by his father, Arthur Ashe Sr., after winning the US Open in 1968. Ashe was the first Black man to win a grand slam singles title. He would also go on to win the Australian Open in 1970 and the US Open in 1975.Hide Caption 10 of 22Ashe attends a hearing at the United Nations in New York in 1970. He was campaigning for South Africa to be excluded from the International Tennis Federation. He had earlier been denied a visa by the country's apartheid government.Ashe attends a hearing at the United Nations in New York in 1970. He was campaigning for South Africa to be excluded from the International Tennis Federation. He had earlier been denied a visa by the country's apartheid government. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe attends a hearing at the United Nations in New York in 1970. He was campaigning for South Africa to be excluded from the International Tennis Federation. He had earlier been denied a visa by the country’s apartheid government.Hide Caption 11 of 22Ashe holds the Wimbledon trophy after his upset win over Jimmy Connors in the 1975 final. That year, he also became the world's top-ranked tennis player.Ashe holds the Wimbledon trophy after his upset win over Jimmy Connors in the 1975 final. That year, he also became the world's top-ranked tennis player. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe holds the Wimbledon trophy after his upset win over Jimmy Connors in the 1975 final. That year, he also became the world’s top-ranked tennis player.Hide Caption 12 of 22Ashe leads fellow Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King onto the dance floor at a post-tournament ball in 1975.Ashe leads fellow Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King onto the dance floor at a post-tournament ball in 1975. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe leads fellow Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King onto the dance floor at a post-tournament ball in 1975.Hide Caption 13 of 22In 1977, Ashe married Jeanne Marie Moutoussamy in New York.In 1977, Ashe married Jeanne Marie Moutoussamy in New York. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheIn 1977, Ashe married Jeanne Marie Moutoussamy in New York.Hide Caption 14 of 22Ashe holds a certificate commemorating his entry into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. The world was shocked in 1979 when the super-fit Ashe suffered a heart attack and underwent a bypass operation. He was set to return to the tennis tour when further complications arose and he was forced to announce his retirement.Ashe holds a certificate commemorating his entry into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. The world was shocked in 1979 when the super-fit Ashe suffered a heart attack and underwent a bypass operation. He was set to return to the tennis tour when further complications arose and he was forced to announce his retirement. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe holds a certificate commemorating his entry into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985. The world was shocked in 1979 when the super-fit Ashe suffered a heart attack and underwent a bypass operation. He was set to return to the tennis tour when further complications arose and he was forced to announce his retirement.Hide Caption 15 of 22Ashe sits with his daughter, Camera, in 1990. He and his wife adopted Camera in 1986.Ashe sits with his daughter, Camera, in 1990. He and his wife adopted Camera in 1986. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe sits with his daughter, Camera, in 1990. He and his wife adopted Camera in 1986.Hide Caption 16 of 22Ashe meets with South African leader Nelson Mandela during a visit to New York in 1991.Ashe meets with South African leader Nelson Mandela during a visit to New York in 1991. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe meets with South African leader Nelson Mandela during a visit to New York in 1991.Hide Caption 17 of 22Ashe, his wife and his daughter attend the Arthur Ashe AIDS Tennis Challenge in 1992. That year, Ashe announced to the public that he had AIDS. It was thought that Ashe contracted HIV from infected blood transfusions during his heart operation many years before. He began campaigning to debunk myths about AIDS and the way it is contracted.Ashe, his wife and his daughter attend the Arthur Ashe AIDS Tennis Challenge in 1992. That year, Ashe announced to the public that he had AIDS. It was thought that Ashe contracted HIV from infected blood transfusions during his heart operation many years before. He began campaigning to debunk myths about AIDS and the way it is contracted. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe, his wife and his daughter attend the Arthur Ashe AIDS Tennis Challenge in 1992. That year, Ashe announced to the public that he had AIDS. It was thought that Ashe contracted HIV from infected blood transfusions during his heart operation many years before. He began campaigning to debunk myths about AIDS and the way it is contracted.Hide Caption 18 of 22Ashe takes part in a demonstration outside the White House in 1992, protesting  the Bush administration's policy on Haitian refugees. He was later arrested during the protest.Ashe takes part in a demonstration outside the White House in 1992, protesting  the Bush administration's policy on Haitian refugees. He was later arrested during the protest. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe takes part in a demonstration outside the White House in 1992, protesting the Bush administration’s policy on Haitian refugees. He was later arrested during the protest.Hide Caption 19 of 22Ashe addresses the World Health Organization during a meeting on World AIDS Day in 1992. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.Ashe addresses the World Health Organization during a meeting on World AIDS Day in 1992. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe addresses the World Health Organization during a meeting on World AIDS Day in 1992. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.Hide Caption 20 of 22Ashe's casket is carried into the Governor's Mansion in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, in 1993. A few days earlier, Ashe had died of AIDS-related pneumonia. He was 49 years old. Among those on the right is his widow, Jeanne, a professional photographer. She is with their daughter.Ashe's casket is carried into the Governor's Mansion in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, in 1993. A few days earlier, Ashe had died of AIDS-related pneumonia. He was 49 years old. Among those on the right is his widow, Jeanne, a professional photographer. She is with their daughter. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheAshe’s casket is carried into the Governor’s Mansion in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, in 1993. A few days earlier, Ashe had died of AIDS-related pneumonia. He was 49 years old. Among those on the right is his widow, Jeanne, a professional photographer. She is with their daughter.Hide Caption 21 of 22Fireworks are set off during the dedication ceremony for the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York in 1997. It's the main stadium at Flushing Meadows, which hosts the US Open, and it's the largest tennis stadium in the world. A statue of Ashe is outside.Fireworks are set off during the dedication ceremony for the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York in 1997. It's the main stadium at Flushing Meadows, which hosts the US Open, and it's the largest tennis stadium in the world. A statue of Ashe is outside. Photos: Tennis great Arthur AsheFireworks are set off during the dedication ceremony for the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York in 1997. It’s the main stadium at Flushing Meadows, which hosts the US Open, and it’s the largest tennis stadium in the world. A statue of Ashe is outside.Hide Caption 22 of 2221 arthur ashe01 arthur ashe02 arthur ashe03 arthur ashe22 arthur ashe04 arthur ashe05 arthur ashe06 arthur ashe07 arthur ashe08 arthur ashe09 arthur ashe10 arthur ashe11 arthur ashe12 arthur ashe13 arthur ashe14 arthur ashe15 arthur ashe16 arthur ashe17 arthur ashe18 arthur ashe19 arthur ashe20 arthur asheThere were some, though, who wished Ashe had come forward sooner, Hall said, arguing that if he had disclosed his condition he could have done more to help the cause — just as he did with apartheid and civil rights. Ashe’s disclosure came just after Magic Johnson announced his own HIV diagnosis in 1991. HIV/AIDS already disproportionately affected Black people, and having two major Black global figures speak publicly about the disease was huge, said Ravi Perry, chair of the department of political science at Howard University.”It was important to have two Black major international global figures come out and not only have to deal with the horror of being infected with the virus, but also use their platform to continue to change the narrative around the virus,” Perry said.Ashe used his fame to advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness Changing the narrative around HIV/AIDS is something Ashe became dedicated to after going public with his disease. Ashe was the type of person to dive into issues and deeply educate himself on topics, so when he spoke on them, he could do so with authority, Hall said. He did so with South Africa — once, for example, forcing the tennis world to confront apartheid by putting the country in a Catch-22 situation for denying Ashe a visa. His approach to HIV/AIDS was no different. Ashe dove into sometimes complicated academic medical literature, becoming an expert on AIDS, AIDS treatment and the health care system, Hall said.One of his biggest pushes at the governmental level was health care reform. He was open about the difficulties of procuring early AIDS drugs, like AZT, and how expensive and inaccessible those treatments were. He was determined to make it easier for people with AIDS, or anything else, to get the coverage they needed with as little red tape as possible.Ashe speaking at the World Health Organization at the United Nations headquarters in New York during a meeting on World AIDS Day in 1992. Ashe speaking at the World Health Organization at the United Nations headquarters in New York during a meeting on World AIDS Day in 1992. Ashe speaking at the World Health Organization at the United Nations headquarters in New York during a meeting on World AIDS Day in 1992. “Many, many athletes were activists, but I don’t think there were any as well read and as well informed as he was,” Hall said.He went on to found the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, which Hall said pledged 50% of its funding to countries outside the US battling the disease.Even as the disease progressed, Ashe continued to make appearances on radio and television, attend tennis tournaments and host tennis clinics, Hall said. In 1992, he spoke at the World Health Organization’s World AIDS Day, where he advocated for further funding for AIDS research. Through it all, he was never afraid to talk about the disease. Some events events paired tennis instruction with messaging about AIDS prevention, Hall said, discussing safe sex and other paths of healthy living.All this was done at a time when the US was a very socially conservative country, Perry said. Ashe continuing to make appearances as someone who was HIV positive was still a shocker for many people — especially since he continued his activism around other issues as well, like the treatment of Haitian refugees, for which he was arrested outside the White House in 1992.And the fact that both Ashe and Johnson, two of the most high profile people with AIDS, were also sports stars certainly helped, Perry said. “After both of them came out with their diagnosis, it became a federal agenda item in the presidential campaign in 1992; health care became a significant issue that helped propel Clinton’s first time,” he said. “And so certainly I would say that the impact of Arthur Ashe made up much of what we saw in terms of policy and investment in policy reform around HIV.”Ashe during a demonstration against the Bush administration's policy on Haiti outside the White House on September 9, 1992. Ashe during a demonstration against the Bush administration's policy on Haiti outside the White House on September 9, 1992. Ashe during a demonstration against the Bush administration’s policy on Haiti outside the White House on September 9, 1992. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 100,000 people died from AIDS in the US between 1981 and 1990. The federal government’s response to the disease at the time is now largely considered insufficient. The people most at risk didn’t have a global audience the way Ashe had. They couldn’t demand media attention like he could, even though many were dying right there in New York, blocks away from him. “I think he felt an obligation to continue,” Perry said. “He’d been a pioneer in race and social relations for decades already.”Now, nearly 30 years after Ashe’s death, there’s still work to be done. Racial disparities in who contracts HIV still exist, and 35 states have laws criminalizing HIV exposure. And there’s still ignorance about the disease among medical professionals, Perry said. Perry, who is HIV positive, lived in Starkville, Mississippi for three years, and said he had to drive two hours for better care — a privilege he said not everyone in the region can afford.”We need to continue to do the work in urban and rural spaces to eliminate the disease, but certainly, at the very least, hopefully we can commit to eliminating the disparity that exists between racial groups,” he said.Doing so would require listening to Black figures and activists still living today, Perry said — those who now stand on the shoulders of Ashe.

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https://www.cnn.com/2022/06/24/us/arthur-ashe-citizen-ashe-hiv-aids-activism-cec/index.html

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