ARTHUR ASHE, the late tennis star, author, and civil rights activist, conceived of a worthy project in his last months. He proposed an African-American sports hall of fame, which he hoped would be built in his hometown of Richmond, Va. To that end, a sculptor designed a statue of Ashe, racket held high, to be placed in front of the hall.
Unfortunately, Ashe's hope hasn't been realized. After his death, the city focused its attention on the statue, not the museum. Richmond's planning commission approved the artist's design and voted to put the statue on Monument Avenue, which currently honors only Confederate heroes.
Now that plan is in jeopardy. Responding to criticism, the commission decided last week to consider opening the design to international competition. Meanwhile, debate continues. Should the statue be placed in a black neighborhood? Should the street be reserved for Civil War monuments?
What's lost amid the controversy is Ashe's dream of a museum for black athletes. The city has raised only $20,000 of an estimated $20 million needed to build such a hall. In an opinion piece, Ashe's widow wrote, ''I am afraid that a statue of Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue honors Richmond, Virginia, more than it does its son, his legacy, and his works.''
Part of his legacy was writing the rich history of black athletes. As any fan knows, every major sport counts blacks among its greatest stars. So a statue honoring Ashe should be erected - where he intended it to go.