Warren Weaver, 84, tennis champion, city housing official

June 15, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Warren Wright Weaver, a 1930s Baltimore tennis luminary who went from playing on Druid Hill Park's segregated tennis courts to membership in the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, was found dead Saturday in his West Baltimore home. He was 84 and had been under treatment for arrhythmia.

Mr. Weaver, a former managing director of the Baltimore City Housing Authority who retired in 1984 after 42 years with the agency, learned to play tennis from his father while growing up in West Baltimore during the 1920s.

He was state junior singles champion from 1931 to 1933 and men's singles champion in 1934 and 1935.

Ranked sixth nationally from 1935 to 1937 by the American Tennis Association, which was the equivalent of the Negro Baseball League, Mr. Weaver was among the best black tennis players on the East Coast in the years before World War II.

It was against the backdrop of segregation that Mr. Weaver and fellow tennis players John Woods, Irvington "Rip" Williams and Charles E. Brown honed their skills and competed on the "Negro courts," as they were known in those days, in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park.

Because mixed-race matches were forbidden, park police chased whites away from the black tennis courts and arrested blacks if they went onto the white tennis courts.

"I played a white man in tennis here back in 1937, and there was a cop who worked in the park named Dick who was our friend and would never have thought of arresting us," Mr. Weaver told The Sun in a 1996 interview.

"They were the only courts in the city where blacks could play," said Mr. Brown, a boyhood friend of Mr. Weaver's and tennis enthusiast who lives in Northwest Baltimore.

Mr. Brown described Mr. Weaver as a "very slender person of average height" who was known for his deadly chop shot.

"He had plenty of court sense and was a good strategist," said Mr. Brown, 86, who retired from the Baltimore public schools as an assistant superintendent.

A member of the American Tennis Association and the Baltimore Tennis Club, Mr. Weaver competed in segregated tennis tournaments on the East Coast.

He was men's singles champion in Virginia in 1931, in the District of Columbia in 1931 and 1935, in Pennsylvania in 1936 and in North Carolina in 1937. He was runner-up junior national champion in 1934.

At what was then Morgan State College, where he earned his bachelor's degree in history in 1937, he won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association singles and doubles championship that year.

He was elected to the Morgan State College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1972 and to the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1983.

A modest and quiet man who quit playing tennis after World War II, Mr. Weaver retained a lifelong interest in the sport.

"He was a fascinating history lesson for me. He was someone who had lived during the worst days of segregation," said Harry Johnson, an attorney and partner with the Baltimore law firm Whiteford Taylor & Preston.

"He was a trailblazer who paved the road for folks like Arthur Ashe who came later. He wasn't bitter when recalling those days, because that's the way it was, but thought it was a part of our history that needed to be recorded and remembered," said Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Weaver, a West Baltimore native, was a 1933 graduate of Douglass High School. During World War II, he served in the Army at Camp Lee, Va., and was discharged in 1945.

He served on many boards, including the Baltimore Regional Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Baltimore Urban League, United Way of Central Maryland, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Planned Parenthood of Maryland, the Druid Hill YMCA and the Hospital Cost Analysis Commission.

He married the former Ada Hackett, who survives him.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe St. in Baltimore.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Weaver is survived by a son, Warren N. Weaver of Pikesville; and two grandchildren.

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