Before Venus and Serena, there were the Archies, and here in the Twin City, the family was legendary.
The late Charles and Ella Ruth’s nine-member brood were known for their prowess on the court in a time when there were very few black faces in the sport.
“People of my generation, of my age – a lot of us took up the game because of them,” said City Council member Denise “DD” Adams. “We watched them win tournaments, and that was pretty much unheard of for young, African American kids… They were considered to be the best of the best.”
Six of the Archie children competed at the regional level or above, and several of them made national headlines. Edwin, the second oldest, took second-place in the Junior National Tennis Tournament title in 1955, falling to a young Arthur Ashe, and brother Richard Archie continued the family’s success, competing in the Western North Carolina High School District Tennis Tournament of Negro High Schools finals the following year. Their sister Marvis won the Junior Nationals singles title in 1963. Twins Elvita Hunt and the late Conita Archie-Hunt were a force to be reckoned with, taking home numerous ACC titles in the mid-1960s. Four of the Archie sisters have been inducted into the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County High School Hall of Fame. Hunt, a retired Winston-Salem State University employee and the first lady of New Birth Worship Center in East Bend, said the lessons she and her siblings learned on the court have served them well in life.
“We learned how to share; we learned joy and happiness right here. We learned love, we learned friendship, we learned life,” she commented. “We learned a lot of things just commuting back and forth. We met people of all races and creeds right here on this court.”
This Saturday, the city will pay homage to the Archie legacy by renaming the Kimberley Park Tennis Courts in their honor. Adams, who played with Carolyn and Conita in the mid-1970s, said she has supported the renaming wholeheartedly.
“I think it’s long overdue,” the city native declared. “This is a family that needs to be honored for what they’ve done in this community.”
Carolyn “Cookie” Archie, who made it to the Junior Nationals semi-finals in 1958, says the family is thrilled that their old stomping grounds will soon bear their name.
“We had always claimed those courts as our courts anyway, so it’s kind of ironic that they have given us this honor,” quipped the 70 year-old. “The city is making it official, and we’re very proud and happy.”
Growing up in the Kimberley Park community, Archie, the third child in the clan, says she can scarcely remember a time when she and her siblings weren’t on the tennis court.
“We were five or six; we were just old enough to hold a tennis racquet,” she said of her early playing days. “The tennis courts were really pretty much a playground because we lived in a small house and the tennis courts were right across the street.”
As children, tennis was an outlet for the family, a place where they could let loose and burn off some steam, Carolyn said. Before long, the courts at Kimberley became one of the family’s favorite haunts. Under the careful tutelage of the late William Roscoe Anderson, who was the director of the Kimberley Park Recreation Center (now called the Martin Luther King Jr. Rec), the youngsters honed their skills and became formidable players. Though she was blessed with raw talent, for Carolyn, what kept her on the courts was a pure and simple love of the game.
“I always liked playing it, as a social thing, but also as a game to just have fun, because that’s what it was all about for me at that time,” commented the grandmother of six. “…My fondest memories were when we were able to play on the courts at night. The city finally did put up lights out there for us and we just had a ball playing at night.”
Carolyn Archie went on to college at Winston-Salem State University, and soon after married and started a family of her own, and tennis was no longer a priority, but these days, The retired registered nurse, says she is back on the court, and loving every minute of it.
“I do still have it. I’m not as fast – I can’t move around as fast, but I still have it,” she said of the talent that brought her family such credence here in town. “Once I got to moving around, it started coming back to me.”
The family made their mark with their achievements, but also through their service to the community, through efforts such as the Kimberley Park Tennis Club, which the siblings founded. One of the club’s chief goals was to bring tennis to youth in underserved communities.
“We’d see the kids come up to the courts and look in, with nothing to do, so we started providing tennis racquets and tennis balls and telling them to come on in,” Edwin Archie recalled. “We ended up having enough kids to start a junior tournament.”
The club continues its tradition of reaching out to the next generation by offering free lessons led by members. City native James Berry, a self-described “tennis junkie,” joined the club in the mid-70s and has been a fixture ever since. The grandfather of seven credits the Archie family with keeping him in the game so long. Although the group no longer plays at Kimberley Park, Berry said he felt it was fitting for the courts to take on the Archie name.
Edwin Archie said their collective passion for tennis is one of the many ties that binds the close-knit family together.“It was a love of tennis and a competitive spirit here,” he said, referencing some of the fierce sibling rivalries that arose on the courts. “Nobody wanted to lose.”
City native Ralph Meadows led the charge for the courts to be renamed. The Paisley alumnus said he grew up with the Archie clan, but was especially close to Conita, who died of cancer. Meadows said he began advocating for the renaming as a way of honoring Conita and her family. Meadows said the renaming ceremony will offer a chance for old friends to reunite, and means of preserving the Archie legacy for years to come.
“I just hope that everybody attends the dedication that was born and raised in Kimberley Park,” he said. “It’ll allow our young people just to be able to know we did have somebody on the courts before Venus and Serena (Williams). The Archie girls were the Venus and Serena of Winston-Salem in the 1960s.”
The renaming ceremony will be held Saturday, April 27 at 10:30 a.m. at the courts, located at the intersection of North Cherry Street and Northwest Crawford Place. A weather-proof display documenting their achievements is slated to be unveiled during the ceremony. For more information, call City Link, 311.