Sports are often depicted as being among the most "open" arenas in race relations. However, sports have reflected the historical racial trends in the larger American society, characterized by discrimination and efforts by minorities to overcome racism (Dawkins & Kinloch, 2000; Gilmore, 1995; Sammons, 1994; Braddock, 1989; Ashe, 1988; Wiggins, 1983). The history of race relations in sports mirrors the progression of relations between majority and minority populations, generally. In the case of the white majority and black minority populations in America, these historical stages range from exploitation or exclusion of African American slaves from participation in white-controlled sports during the plantation era, through the post-slavery period of segregation and discrimination in most sport activities, and, finally, to limited desegregation with continuing resistance by the white majority. In response to racism, African Americans formed their own organizations or "parallel structures" in such sports as baseball and basketball to World War II. The desegregation of race relations in sports began to accelerate after World War II in the major sports of baseball, basketball and football, but not in the case of golf. While white resistance to the integration of blacks into all the major sports continued after initial desegregation efforts, nowhere was this resistance more complete than in golf, where the maintenance of a system of overt and institutional racism prevailed for many decades after initial racial barriers were removed (Dawkins & Kinloch, 2000).
Recent interest in the historical background of African Americans in golf has been stimulated by the phenomenal success of Eldrick "Tiger" Woods, currently the only golfer of African American ancestry playing on the regular Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour. Despite the longstanding perception that African Americans have not been interested in golf historically, Tiger Woods' multi-ethnic background has stimulated both efforts to attract more minority youth to golf and discussions of the past experiences of African Africans in the sport. However, the legacy of African Americans in golf, especially prior to some racial breakthroughs in the sport during the civil rights movement, has been less well documented. While earlier literature indicates that there was significant participation of African Americans in golf before the modern civil rights period (Ashe, 1988), much of the recent documentation of their experiences has appeared since the rise to prominence of Tiger Woods (McDaniel, 2000; Dawkins & Kinloch, 2000; Kennedy, 2000: Sinnette, 1998: Dawkins, 1996). This literature reveals that despite discrimination faced by black athletes throughout the history of sports in America, there was a significant presence of African Americans in golf and other major sports long before desegregation battles broke down racial barriers to black participation. In this paper, I examine the response by African Americans to exclusion from mainstream golf activities controlled by whites, their development of activities and organizations in golf, and the production of many star performers during the Jim Crow era. Finally, I argue that current opportunities for greater inclusion of African Americans will be enhanced by formally recognizing the "African American golf legacy" and the role it serves in stimulating a sense of historical awareness, continuity and pride among the thousands of African American youth who will be attracted to golf in the Twenty-First Century.
The Development of Black Golf in America
The long struggle to gain access to white elite-controlled sports is part of the historical struggle of blacks to overcome racial discrimination in America, generally. Golf was the last major sport to remove formal racial barriers to black participation at the professional level, which, along with other factors, has resulted in a slow pace toward significant African American presence in professional golf. The most revealing aspects of black participation in golf during the Jim Crow era is the significant African American presence in golf as early as the 1890s and their highly organized involvement in the sport, especially during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s. Despite the widely held assumption that black interest in golf is fairly recent, the earliest involvement of African Americans in golf was in the context of serving as caddies for wealthy whites at exclusive country clubs. In this role they also developed as players. However, unlike their white counterparts, black caddies were prevented from moving up to the professional ranks by the restrictive racial climate in America. The experience of John Shippen, who became known as the first "colored golf pro," illustrates the early interest in golf by Black youth when the sport was introduced to America in the late 19th century. As one of the earliest black caddies, John Shippen was introduced to golf in the 1890s and became involved in tournaments held by the United States Golf Association (USGA) from the mid 1890s to 1913. Shippen competed in the second USGA championship tournament in 1896 over the objections of several of the white entrants who didn't want to play with him and another minority entrant, Oscar Bunn, a member of the Shinnecock Indian nation. Amazingly, at a time when the top golfers were transplants from England who would dominate major American golf tournaments for many years to come, this young African American caddie finished tied for fifth place. Shippen competed in several other USGA tournaments and, although he was not accorded the recognition by whites that he deserved, Shippen became well known in the black community. However, when the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) was formed in 1916, Shippen was not invited to join. The racially restrictive environment of this period ensured that despite their success as players, the role of African Americans in golf would be defined in the context of Jim Crowism as that of permanent golf course servants. Therefore, unlike many white youth who began as caddies and rose through the ranks to eventual success as professional golfers, blacks could not rise through the career path from caddie to pro, despite demonstrating similarly exceptional golf skills in their youth. However, like Shippen, many African Americans youth began playing golf as caddies during the Jim Crow era, eventually becoming recognized as pros in black communities, where they also served as catalysts for the spread of golf. Even though the PGA customarily excluded blacks from becoming members since its inception in 1916, the organization formally restricted membership based on race by inserting a clause in its constitution to that effect in 1943. This PGA membership restriction, which was not removed until 1961, became widely known as the "caucasians-only clause" (Dawkins & Kinloch, 2000).
When middle-class blacks became attracted to golf and began to form their own country clubs, especially in the 1920s, opportunities increased for blacks to play as recreational, amateur and professional golfers. Thus, black caddies, who became golf instructors and recognized as professionals in their own communities, were provided a showcase for displaying their talents as the black elite clubs organized golf tournaments. Unlike the case of their white counterparts, however, black club activities were not purely to promote elite values. Many of the black golf clubs took the lead in fighting discrimination to gain access to segregated golf facilities and extending opportunities for African Americans of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in the sport. While these struggles began in the 1920s with efforts to gain access to segregated, public golf courses, they continued throughout the period of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and beyond and targeted other racially discriminatory policies and practices. Middle-class blacks were among the leaders of these struggles, often taking legal action in conjunction with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other civil rights organizations.
The black elite also took the lead in developing their own organizations to promote golf among African Americans in the face of white exclusion. Among such organizations, the most well-known nationally was the United Golfers Association, better known as the UGA. Founded in 1926, the UGA became the African American counterpart to the PGA, although the level of resource support and organizational sophistication did not equal that of the PGA. However, unlike the PGA, the UGA was open to anyone who had a desire to play. The UGA had a network of local affiliates and sponsored a national championship annually. Much like the Negro baseball leagues, which reached their heydays in the 1940s, the UGA facilitated black participation in golf, producing many champions and star performers. However, not until major challenges were mounted to the exclusion of black golfers from playing in PGA sponsored events during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, did changes begin to occur. Although a suit filed against the PGA on behalf of three black golfers in 1948 (Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes and Madison Gunter) was withdrawn when the PGA promised to examine its "Caucasians-only" membership clause at its next meeting, this legal pressure stimulated more aggressive actions. Four years later in 1952, black golfers Bill Spiller, along with Joe Louis and Eural Clark, challenged the rejection of their attempt to enter the PGA sponsored San Diego Open golf tournament. With the notoriety of the popular ex-champion boxer, Joe Louis, attracting national attention to the controversy, the PGA began permitting limited participation by black golfers in a few of its events, despite steadfastly maintaining its "caucasians-only" policy. By late 1959, under tremendous social and legal pressure, the PGA granted the status of "approved tournament player" to black golfer, Charlie Sifford and ended its "caucasians-only" membership policy in 1961. Although Sifford became the first black golfer to be granted full membership status in the PGA in 1964, there has only been a handful of blacks to follow, the most notable being Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first black golfer invited to play in the prestigious Masters Championship Tournament. Despite a long history of both formal and informal exclusion, the lack of a significant increase in the number of blacks playing golf at the professional level has been attributed more often to shortcomings of blacks themselves, such as a lack of interest in golf or the lack of proper muscle development to excel in the sport (Hatfield, 1996). Less attention has focused on the opportunity structure in golf which has been largely closed to minorities until fairly recently and the structural changes needed to significantly increase the number of African Americans and other minorities in the sport. Past generations of blacks who entered golf saw few of the formal and informal racial barriers to participation removed. Except for some attention generated by the successful activities of a few of the handful of black golfers (e.g., Charlie Sifford and Pete Brown in the 1960's, Lee Elder in the 1970's and Calvin Pete in the 1980's), the Black presence in golf was largely uneventful. This would change in the mid 1990's only after Tiger Woods entered the golf scene and eventually became the top professional golfer in the world. However, before Tiger Woods' success, the beginning of that decade produced attention generating events focusing on the negative state of race relations in golf. Although private, elite country clubs in America have a long history of maintaining membership rolls that are exclusively white, the Shoal Creek (Alabama) Country Club came under national scrutiny in 1990 when it was revealed that a championship tournament of the Professional Golfers Association Tour was being sponsored by a golf club that openly excluded blacks from holding membership. The ensuing protest generated by this incident also called attention to American golf's past history of racial discrimination and produced a flurry of coverage, mostly appearing in the popular media, providing insightful, but primarily anecdotal, accounts of the discriminatory treatment of black golfers during the segregation era (McRae, 1991). In 1992, on the heels of this critical examination of past race relations in golf, Charlie Sifford, widely recognized as a pioneering black professional golfer, released his autobiography entitled, Just Let Me Play: The Story of Charlie Sifford, the First Black PGA Golfer (Sifford & Gullo, 1992). While Sifford's recounting of his experiences further stimulated interest in the discriminatory treatment of black golfers of the past+ his autobiography was also seen as the isolated experiences of one person who was characterized as selectively recalling "bitter memories" (Golf Magazine, 1992). Yet, little progress had been made in terms of significant increases in the number of African Americans playing on the PGA tour since Sifford gained full PGA membership status in 1964. Rather than dismissal of Sifford's autobiographical recollections, the evidence suggested that the discrimination he experienced overtly continued to operate institutionally resulting in a slow pace toward African American inclusion over the three decades since his breakthrough.
Tiger Woods and the African American Golf Legacy
After establishing himself as the most successful collegiate golf champion ever, Tiger Woods turned professional in 1996 and continued to excel in the professional ranks. While attention focusing on his multi-ethnic identity also received a great deal of attention, Woods clearly established his link to the golf legacy of African Americans. Upon winning the prestigious Masters Golf Championship in 1997, becoming the first person of African heritage to win this award, Woods placed the victory in the context of the larger historical struggles of Black golfers, thereby, becoming a catalyst for renewing focus on the experiences of African American golfers who came before him. The first public comment made by Tiger Woods upon winning the Masters was to express that recognition be given to the black golf professionals who went before him and upon whose pioneering shoulders his accomplishment stood. Woods specifically recognized the pioneering efforts of African American golfers Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford and Ted Rhodes. As previously mentioned, Elder was the first black to play in the Masters in 1975 and Sifford the first to gain full PGA membership in 1964. Although Rhodes was perhaps the greatest black golfer before Tiger Woods, he remained virtually unknown to millions of television viewers who heard the tribute paid by Woods. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that, along with many exceptional black golfers whose careers were largely played out before 1960 "behind the veil" (DuBois, 1903) of segregation, Rhodes was never permitted to join the PGA due to its restrictive racial policies. By linking his success to the participation of African Americans in golf historically, Tiger Woods' comments suggest a need to recognize his accomplishments as a continuation of the success of others who came before him and can be viewed as earlier Black role models in golf. Until recently, information on the accomplishments of these role models has been limited. However, expansion of the literature on African American golfers has not only focused greater attention on Black golfers of the recent past and those who currently compete at the professional level such as Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, Calvin Pete, Jim Dent, Walter Morgan and others, but also on the earliest Black golf pioneers+ some for whom little public recognition has been received. Like Ted Rhodes, who was singled out by Tiger Woods for his phenomenal success on the Black golf "circuit" during the 1940s and 1950s, these African American golf pioneers never had the opportunity to gain membership in the PGA and compete regularly on an interracial basis. Representative examples of this category of contributors to the golf legacy of African Americans include: Robert "Pat" Ball, who was the first to win the United Golfers Association (UGA) "Negro National Open" championship tournament four times (1927, 1929, 1934 and 1941), and to be named teaching pro at a municipal golf course (Chicago [Palos Park], 1938): Howard Wheeler, who was the only player to win the "Negro National Open" championship across three decades (1933, 1938, 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1958) and became well-known for his unorthodox, cross-handed golf grip: John Shippen, who was the first African American to play in a golf tournament sponsored by whites (i.e., the second United States Golf Association national tournament in 1896); and many other successful Black golfers of the past. Therefore, Tiger Woods' rise to prominence should not only be viewed as the catalytic force behind increasing interest in golf among youth in general, and African American youth in particular, but also in stimulating interest in the golf legacy of African Americans.
Continuing the African American Golf Legacy: Fostering Inclusion
Tiger Woods' recognition of pioneering black golfers on the occasion of winning golf's most coveted award clearly identified him is part of the continuing legacy of Black golfers. It has also stimulated interest in promoting more African American inclusion in the sport. By linking his accomplishments to African American "historical role models" and the continuation of the Black golf legacy, current programmatic efforts to introduce and stimulate interest in golf as a career pursuit among African American youth can clearly benefit. Recognizing the legacy of African Americans in golf can serve to increase the sense of racial pride among Black youth, while fostering greater awareness of the contributions of African Americans to the sport in the larger public. While the PGA has been sometimes stigmatized as the last professional organization in sports to remove the formal barrier of racism, ironically, golf has mounted a more aggressive effort than other professional sports to increase participation of Black youth--The First Tee Program. Equally important is the need to launch similar plans for recognition of the legacy of African Americans in golf at the level of the most esteemed realms of the golf world--World Golf Hall of Fame. Such recognition would serve to: (1) recognize the achievements of deserving black golfers who competed as professionals before 1961 when it was not possible for them to become PGA members, (2) provide a sense of pride for aspiring Black youth who would be able to identify with golfers of the past who were successful players despite obstacles, (3) acquaint the larger public with the contributions of African Americans to golf, thereby fostering greater respect, and (4) produce for golf the same level of recognition that has been achieved for segregation era African American contributors to other sports (e.g., Baseball Hall of Fame). Since the World Golf Hall of Fame has recently expanded its eligibility criteria for induction, such a proposal would not involve the need to establish new induction avenue criteria.
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Marvin P. Dawkins is a professor of sociology and former director of the Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Miami (Florida). His research has focused on issues of race and social equity in education and career attainment, problems of drug abuse in Aftrican American populations, and race relations in sports.…