White Nationalist Insignias Deface Arthur Ashe Mural

Richmond, whose racial atmosphere drove the tennis great away, plans to restore tribute
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2021 7:35 PM CDT
Arthur Ashe Mural Defaced With White Nationalist Symbols
People walk through the new tunnel mural honoring Arthur Ashe in 2017. Vandals struck the mural this week.   (Shelby Lum/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, File)

Arthur Ashe moved away from his Virginia hometown as a teenager, weary of the racial segregation that extended to the city's tennis courts. "I left all that Richmond stood for at the time—its segregation, its conservatism, its parochial thinking, its slow progress toward equality, its lack of opportunity for talented Black people," the tennis great wrote in his autobiography three decades later. Ashe made his peace with the city, the Los Angeles Times reported, before his death in 1993, and Richmond has honored him in various ways since. But one of those tributes was discovered defaced Thursday.

A mural celebrating Ashe in the city's Battery Park was painted with insignias linked to a white nationalist group, police said. Crews immediately painted over the graffiti. "Hate will not be tolerated in Richmond," Police Chief Gerald Smith said in a news release, per the AP. "We are asking for the public's help by being another set of eyes on the murals and monuments of Richmond." Officials hope to have the mural restored soon. "Those responsible for this, and other like-minded shameful and cowardly acts, will be held accountable,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement. "Hate will not be tolerated in our city."

The city contacted Sir James Thornhill, one of the painters who created the mural in 2017 as a community project, on Thursday. He called it a sad and emotional day, per WAVY. The destruction demonstrates where society is now, Thornhill added, which he said hurts. The white nationalist insignias were painted on both sides of Ashe's face. The artwork depicts Ashe at both entrances to a tunnel in the park, and scenes inside represent events in his life. The tunnel is near the public courts Ashe played on growing up. Richmond also honors Ashe with a statue. As the statues of Confederate leaders have been removed from Monument Avenue, per Sports Illustrated, the bronze monument to the tennis great and activist stands. (Read more Richmond stories.)

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