Simpson became a standout player. Eaton and Jackson intro-duced Dr. Robert Walter Johnson. For more than 20 years, Johnson took young African- American players into his Lynchburg, Virginia, home. He fed, clothed and trained them with his own money on a single clay court in his backyard. On weekends, during volatile decades of civil unrest, particu-larly he transported them to play tournaments across state and racial lines. 63 Association (ATA) at North Carolina College (now NC Central University) in Durham. The ATA was the black tennis association. Its circuit was formed for black tennis players to compete around the country. “At that time, we could not play in the USLTA, the US Lawn Tennis Association,” Simpson explains. His mother drove a group of boys to the tournament. He won the doubles championship with Leonard Hawes, who was 11 years old. This was the first time Simpson’s mother ever saw him play tennis. She cried, realizing the talent her son possessed. him to in the South, www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM When he was 8, the coaches wanted Simpson to compete in his first tennis tournament spon-sored by the American Tennis S Simpson became a standout player. Eaton and Jackson introduced him to Dr. Robert Walter Johnson. For more than 20 years, Johnson took young African-American players into his Lynchburg, Virginia, home. He fed, clothed and trained them with his own money on a single clay court in his backyard. On weekends, during volatile decades of civil unrest, particularly in the South, he transported them to play tournaments across state and racial lines. Eaton and Johnson encouraged Simpson’s parents to allow him to live with Johnson in Virginia during the spring and summer months to play tennis around the country on the ATA junior development team. Simpson’s mother was hesitant but his father wanted him to take advantage of the opportunity. At age 9, he moved in with Johnson and ten other boys and girls. Johnson encouraged older children to mentor the younger ones. Fifteen-year-old Arthur Ashe was assigned to be Simpson’s role model. Not all racquet clubs were welcoming of African Americans. Simpson recalls Johnson driving two boys and one girl 16 hours from Lynchburg to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to compete in the national boys and girls championships. But they were denied entry to the Manker Patten Tennis Club. Johnson thanked the club, told them he understood and he hoped to see them in the future. On the car ride home, Johnson allowed the kids to express their anger and cry, and then told them, “Don’t ever forget this. Use it to your benefit. Learn from this. Because you see what I am trying to prepare you for. There are people in this world who do not want you playing tennis in these tournaments. But this is what you’re gonna have to go through. Never forget this moment. Use it to your advantage.” Johnson wrote a convincing letter to the USLTA. The following year, the junior develop-ment team’s application was accepted. Simpson made it to the semi-finals in singles and doubles. Simpson’s teammate, Bonnie Logan from Durham, won the girls national championship. “That was … whoa,” Simpson says with a laugh. “Here’s the real problem,” Simpson says. “They took that tournament away from Bonnie Logan.” The racquet club said Johnson falsified her application even though he indicated on the entry form that Logan’s birthday would fall during the tournament, which could have placed her in an older age group. Ten-year-old Logan had to return the trophy. The following year, the team returned. From top: White and black children play tennis together at Dr. Johnson’s Lynchburg, Virginia, home in 1965. During this time, Simpson lived in Dr. Johnson’s home with eight or nine other children. Simpson, left, with Hugh Curry, right, at the 1965 USLTA North Carolina State Championship in Greensboro.
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