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Maurice Ashley

International Grandmaster of Chess Maurice Ashley was born on March 6, 1966, in St. Andrew, Jamaica. When Ashley was twelve years old he moved with his family moved to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York. With instruction from his older brother, Ashley began to play chess. During his high school years at Brooklyn Tech in the early 1980s, Ashley failed to make the chess team, but despite this setback, he resolved to compete in local tournaments. Ashley joined the Black Bear School of Chess, a local group of African American chess enthusiasts from Brooklyn, and by the time he graduated from high school in 1984, Ashley had determined to attain the highest possible chess player ranking of Grandmaster.

Within two years, Ashley had become a National Master; he also became the captain of the City College of New York’s chess team, which competed in the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship in 1987. Ashley studied English in college, and in his free time coached the Raging Rooks chess team at Harlem’s Junior High School #43. In 1991, at the age of twenty-five, Ashley led the Rooks to victory in the National Junior High School Championships in Dearborn, Michigan. Eventually Ashley would lead the Rooks to a total of two state championships and one national championship.

In 1991 Ashley became the Harlem Educational Activities Fund’s chess director after realizing how much he enjoyed coaching the game. Two years later Ashley became an International Master of Chess, the first African American in U.S. history to obtain this ranking; he also finished in first place at the esteemed Enhance International Chess Tournament and became champion of Manhattan’s Marshall Chess Club Championship. 1993 also marked Ashley’s first year as coach of Mott Hall Elementary’s Dark Knights Chess Team, a group that would go on to win two consecutive championships on the national level.

In 1995 Ashley’s daughter Nia was born; that same year Ashley became a commentator for the World Championship between Kasparov and Anand. In 1996, Ashley would serve as a commentator for Kasparov’s legendary Man vs. Machine match against the computer Deep Blue. The following year, Ashley left his coaching work to focus his efforts on becoming an International Grand Master of Chess.

At age thirty-three, Ashley became the first African American to attain the rank of International Grand Master of Chess in 1999, joining a list of approximately 800 chess players worldwide to have obtained the title. This achievement was reported in a variety of publications across the globe, including The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. That September, Ashley opened the Harlem Chess Center, which offered classes and computer chess training. In 2000 and 2001, Ashley became the first consecutive winner at the Foxwoods Open, and in 2003 Ashley became the U.S. Chess Federation’s Grandmaster of the Year. Ashley runs the Maurice Ashley Foundation, an organization which he hopes will establish chess as a significant tool for developing young people’s educational growth. In addition to his work with the Foundation, Ashley has produced an assortment of educational tools to spread his message about the positive benefits of chess; these include the book Chess for Success: Using an Old Game to Build New Strengths in Children and Teens, the DVD Speed Chess, and the CD ROM Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess.

Accession Number

A2007.266

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/18/2007

Last Name

Ashley

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Seaward Primary and Junior High

Wolmer's Trust High School for Boys

City College of New York

I.S. 252 Arthur S. Somers

Brooklyn Technical High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Maurice

Birth City, State, Country

St. Andrews

HM ID

ASH02

Favorite Season

Spring

Favorite Vacation Destination

Iceland

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

3/6/1966

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Jamaica

Favorite Food

Ackee, Saltfish

Short Description

Chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley (1966 - ) was the first African American to earn the title of International Grandmaster of Chess. He was an advocate for chess education as a means to improve the lives of at-risk youth.

Employment

World Chess Federation

P.S. 123, Mahalia Jackson School

J.H.S. 43, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., New York, New York

P.S./I.S. 223, Mott Hall School

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Maurice Ashley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley describes his maternal grandmother, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley describes his maternal grandmother, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Maurice Ashley talks about American immigration policy

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Maurice Ashley remembers his mother's immigration to the United States

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Maurice Ashley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Maurice Ashley describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Maurice Ashley describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Maurice Ashley remembers his upbringing in Kingston, Jamaica

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley remembers his mother's visits

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley remembers playing Jamaican board games

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley remembers Seaward Primary and Junior High School in Kingston, Jamaica

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Maurice Ashley describes his early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Maurice Ashley recalls the Wolmer's Trust High School for Boys in Kingston, Jamaica

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Maurice Ashley remembers moving to the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Maurice Ashley recalls his arrival in Brooklyn, New York, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Maurice Ashley recalls his arrival in Brooklyn, New York, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Maurice Ashley remembers the crime in the Brownsville community of Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Maurice Ashley talks about his older brother

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Maurice Ashley remembers the political violence in Jamaica

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley talks about the drug related violence in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley remembers Arthur S. Somers Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley talks about the Jamaican and American educational systems

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley remembers Arthur S. Somers Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Maurice Ashley remembers adjusting to American culture

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Maurice Ashley recalls the chess club at Brooklyn Technical High School in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Maurice Ashley remembers his aspiration to play professional chess

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Maurice Ashley recalls joining the Jehovah's Witnesses

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley remembers his introduction to the Black Bear School of Chess

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley describes the history of the Black Bear School of Chess, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley describes the history of the Black Bear School of Chess, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley remembers the players at the Black Bear School of Chess

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Maurice Ashley recalls his introduction to chess tournaments

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Maurice Ashley remembers his college education

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Maurice Ashley describes the development of his skills at chess

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Maurice Ashley remembers coaching the Raging Rooks chess team

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Maurice Ashley describes his students' experiences of racism at chess tournaments

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley reflects upon his experiences as a chess coach

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley recalls coaching the Raging Rooks at J.H.S. 43 in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley remembers his conflict with the American Chess Foundation

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley talks about his formal chess training

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Maurice Ashley remembers the Dark Knights chess team at Mott Hall School in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Maurice Ashley describes his motivation for coaching chess

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Maurice Ashley remembers becoming an international chess master

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Maurice Ashley describes the racial discrimination in the professional chess community, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Maurice Ashley describes the racial discrimination in the professional chess community, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Maurice Ashley talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley describes his challenges as a parent

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley describes his method for teaching chess

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley recalls his start as a chess commentator

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley recalls becoming an international grandmaster of chess, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Maurice Ashley recalls becoming an international grandmaster of chess, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Maurice Ashley remembers celebrating his international grandmaster title

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Maurice Ashley talks about inspirational African Americans

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Maurice Ashley describes his hopes for young chess players, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley describes his hopes for young chess players, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley talks about his fellow black international grandmasters of chess

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley describes his plans for the future

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley reflects upon the game of chess, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Maurice Ashley reflects upon the game of chess, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Maurice Ashley describes his career as a chess commentator

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Maurice Ashley describes the intellectual aspects of chess, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Maurice Ashley describes the intellectual aspects of chess, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Maurice Ashley talks about playing chess on the Internet

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Maurice Ashley describes his book, 'Chess for Success'

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Maurice Ashley talks about his CD-ROM, 'Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess'

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Maurice Ashley talks about the professional chess community

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Maurice Ashley describes the opportunities for African American chess players

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Maurice Ashley reflects upon his legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

3$1

DATitle
Maurice Ashley describes the history of the Black Bear School of Chess, pt. 1
Maurice Ashley describes his students' experiences of racism at chess tournaments
Transcript
And so, turns out that they also played in Prospect Park [Brooklyn, New York]. And there were chess tables in Prospect Park at the time. So I said, okay, so I'm going to up to Prospect Park 'cause these, that's where they hang out. So I ended up, Leon [Vincent "Leon" Munro] and me, we went to Prospect Park to get games and we played there and then we started finding out who were the best guys. And this one guy, George Gold- George Golden, that's G-O-L-D-E-N, George was the man, right. George was about the same age as Pop [Willie Johnson] and, and he was the like, he was like a god. He, at the time wasn't better than the best of them anymore 'cause William Morrison and Ronald Simpson had already challenged George and showed that they could beat him but I would later learn the history of this group. And I would later learn that they called themselves the Black Bear School [Black Bear School of Chess]. And the way they became the Black Bear School, Pop tells the story and all kinds of embellished history or I, I don't think it's embellished but, you know, it sounds like craziness. But the idea behind the school was, George used to whoop on everybody and then Chris [Chris Welcome], George, and Minio, Herminio Baez, it's H-E-R-M-I-N-I-O, Baez. Minio used to, they were like--no, wait a minute, Minio was on the other side, so Minio was with George, it's Chris, Steve [Ernest "Steve" Colding], and Pop, no, no, wait a minute, D.C. [Duncan Cox] is in here so, so it's, it's Pop, Chris, and, and D.C. which stands for Duncan-something, I don't know what the C is. But anyway, they all hang out playing chess together but Pop beats on all of them and takes their money so they wanna beat Pop. So they study everything about Pop's game, they're in the private, they get, they get like Russian chess books, they get German chess books; they don't even read German, they get German chess books and a dictionary and read the chess notation, you can, you know, you have note, chess notations because chess is a eight by eight board so it's read like a grid and the bottom is A, B, C, D through H and 1, 2, 3, 4, through 8, so A1 is the, that lower right hand corner where A cr- A crosses 1 on that square and you read the squares like that. So they would take the German chess book, where L is bishop, L is laufer, so it's a bishop, right. And all the names don't match, and they would take the book out, it's the Weltgeschichte, those are the books (laughter). They would take out the books, they would grab a dictionary, and they would see laufer and they would look up laufe- said like, "It's an L. Okay, it looks like an L, yeah, it's an L. A-U, okay, look--what is that?" "Yo that's a bishop, a laufer." "What's a laufer?" "It's a laufer, it's a bishop." And they would read and learn, you couldn't go with Russian because Russian, Cyrillic alphabet and you couldn't match, you know, it would be way too hard but they, but they learned how to do the Russian chess moves. So when you saw a C you knew it was, it was a bishop and it, they didn't know a C was actually pronounced like an S in Russian so it would be, s- for (Russian word), which is bishop. And, you know, all they knew was C meant bishop, so C, when you see a C, that's a bishop. And you had this funny twirly thing that was a rook but it, they didn't know it was an L that it sounded like an L, and that was (Russian word). And, you know, all that, they were just like deciphering codes like Egyptian hieroglyphics so you could get the best books so you could study that. And literally snail pace study, this is how crazy these guys were for chess, and that's how they prepared for George.$I remember being at the tournament, I remember Jonathan [Jonathan Nock] being at the, you know, there were not a lot of black kids at this tournament. We were in Arizona. The kids had never been out of Harlem [New York, New York], first time on a plane. They're in Tempe [Arizona] and Jonathan was analyzing--there's a group of kids analyzing this chess position and Jonathan who is now a chess b- you know has a chess bug, he comes over and he looks at the position and he sees, I see a move that I know is a great move and Jonathan spots the move, so he decides to show the kids the move. And he reaches his hand and I can see that he sees it, I'm like proudly waiting for him to show them the move, and he goes, "Look, look," and he goes like this to grab it, and a white kid, maybe a couple of years younger, grabs the piece and tries to make a move. And Jonathan is like, "No, no, no, no, no, that's not the move," and he tries to take the piece out of the kid's hand to show the other move. And the kid says, "Let go of the rook, nigger." And Jonathan went, "What?" And rolled back (laughter) 'cause a Harlem kid is not gonna play, even though the kid was tinier than he was, this kid was gonna learn something. And I saw what Jonathan was about to do, and it was gonna get ugly; Jonathan would have destroyed the kid. So, I grabbed Jonathan's arm to pull him back and he looks he said, "Mr. Ashley [HistoryMaker Maurice Ashley], you, you saw, you heard what he said to me?" I said, "I know that, you, you don't, you can't let that get you like that in this place." And there was a coach of the other kid there, and she was smiling. And I'm looking at her like, you realize, you know, what's up, and apparently she didn't understand what happened because Jonathan is furious like, I'm supposed to hurt this kid, and within ten seconds the kid comes over to him and apologizes and Jonathan is in shock. Like huh? And they go back to the position and they start--it's like the kid, the kid doesn't--he's like, the kid was like seven or eight like so many years out of this, out of home, you know, a home life that's what you called them. And does it really hurt their feelings? I don't know it's just what I hear. And now he's apologizing to Jonathan, Jonathan's in shock 'cause he didn't expect it. You, you, he's learned you're supposed to take care of business, now the kid's apologized, he has to readjust his thinking. And then all of a sudden they're back together playing again over the chess board which also showed me the magic of the game that it could bring cultures together in very funny ways.