The Integration of the American Bowling Congress: The Buffalo Experience

Article excerpt

Bowling, a highly interactive sport, was by 1945, a billion dollar industry that touched the lives of an estimated 12 to 16 million Americans. It had reached this status in great part due to its promotion by the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII and because unlike football or baseball anyone with a few dollars and the desire could play. (2) But the American Bowling Congress (ABC), bowling's governing body, had in its bylaws a "white males only" clause which it had strictly enforced since its incorporation in 1893. By 1945, at wars end, a number of civil rights and civic organizations and progressive white individuals concluded that segregation in American society was a baleful social malignancy that had to go. From organizations such as the NAACP, National Urban League, B'nai B'rith and others, plans were formulated to end segregation in America's most popular participant sport.

These organizations joined with the United Auto Workers--Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO) and other labor unions in the effort to end the whites-only policy of the ABC. All these organizations together then asked the Mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey to head up an umbrella organization called the National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling. Humphrey was the ideal person, for he was a long time supporter of labor and an ardent civil rights activist. In fact, as Mayor of Minneapolis, he had led the city in passing the first Municipal Fair Employment Practices ordinance in the United States. (3)

In 1945 the NAACP considered challenging the "whites only" clause of the ABC in the courts, but concluded the courts would not be sympathetic. (4) But the apparent lack of legal grounds to challenge the policy did not stop opponents of the ABC. Early efforts at challenging the discrimination clause in the constitution of the ABC were aimed at changing the organization from within, and that initiative came from the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and the UAW-CIO. The former's role in the campaign was the result of Father Charles T. Carow, the Executive Director of the New York Bowling Association. He also sat on the Executive Board of both the CYO and the ABC. At the latter's 1946 annual convention, Carow and the CYO sponsored a resolution to amend the ABC's constitution. Its Board of Directors unanimously turned down the resolution and recommended that the convention delegates do the same. The International Union Executive Board of the UAW-CIO tried several times in 1944 to get the ABC to revise its policy. That year the Board adopted a resolution condemning the policy. (5) In 1946 the UAW-CIO moved towards stronger action when it unanimously voted at its December meeting to sever any connection with the ABC unless it changed its policy, and local union teams would be prohibited from seeking sanction from any ABC association. In the face of clear resistance to reform, the UAW-CIO took the initiative in organizing a grassroots campaign against the ABC.

At the same time the UAW-CIO recognized the value of the organizing skills of the NAACP and of activists in that organization. In 1940 the UAW called upon local and national leaders of the NAACP to help organize automobile workers. Among the most effective organizers were African Americans who had developed their skills as members of the Youth Council of the Detroit NAACP. As one historian of labor has noted, it was an innovative alliance between unions and community organizations. (6) It was not the only time the CIO and the NAACP worked together in the early 1940s. The two organizations had also cooperated closely on the Citizens Committee to End Discrimination in Baseball in 1942. (7) Thus, it was not surprising that when the UAW-CIO decided in the early months of 1947 to mount a major campaign against the American Bowling Congress, it enlisted the NAACP as a partner.

Olga Madar, Director of the Recreation Department of the UAW-CIO, appealed to the natural ties between the two organizations. …