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'I'll get back to you.' (legacies of Arthur Ashe and Thurgood Marshall) (Editorial)

When mighty warriors fall, it's not enough to merely mourn their passing. To truly honor them, we must make a personal commitment to battle all the harder until their replacements arrive - or until we earn the honor of carrying on the mantle ourselves. We must perpetuate the legacies of our heros by adopting their worthy causes and admirable virtues in our own lives. This tenet rings especially true with the recent passing of two great American heroes: Arthur R. Ashe Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.

The last time I spoke with Arthur was just three days before his death, when we were honored with Black History Maker Awards by Associated Black Charities (ABC). But more memorable than our last meeting was hearing Arthur's voice on the answering machine when I called to offer condolences to his wife, Jean - the day after he died of AIDS-related pneumonia: "I can't talk to you right now, but if you'll leave a message, I'll get back to you."

The message is not unusual; the man who left it was. When Arthur said he'd get back to you, he meant it - even after he contracted the deadly AIDS virus. During our more than 20 years of friendship, Arthur remained an unwavering fighter for equal opportunity for black athletes, against racial injustice in America, South Africa and Haiti, and finally, against ignorance in the battle against AIDS. He approached these challenges in the same way he became an all-time tennis champion - with determination, focused intellect and no small amount of grace under pressure.

Marshall - who was also honored, posthumously, by ABC that evening - reflected those qualities as well. As a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Marshall was a chief architect of the destruction of the separate-but-equal doctrine that was the fulcrum of American apartheid. When he was named to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson, he became a champion of individual rights for all Americans.

When asked whether AIDS was the toughest thing he'd ever faced, Ashe replied: "No, racism is. Nothing has been more difficult than dealing with being black in America." And when a recently retired Justice Marshall was asked whether African-Americans had achieved justice and overcome discrimination, he replied, "Hell no! It's not over."

It's not over. The legacy of Ashe and Marshall will "get back to us" - and we must be ready to answer when it calls.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Author:Graves, Earl G.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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