Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

African American Golfers during the Jim Crow Era

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

African American Golfers during the Jim Crow Era

Article excerpt

AFRICAN AMERICAN GOLFERS DURING THE JIM CROW ERA Marvin P. Dawkins and Graham C. Kinloch Praeger Publishers 182 pages $49.95

When Tiger Woods came onto the Professional Golf Association tour in 1996, there were no full-time African American players on the tour. Jim Thorpe, the last Black player with a regular tour card, was a part-time member of the regular tour, awaiting his 50th birthday in 1999 so that he could join the Senior PGA tour.

With no full-time African American women on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour and only Woods on the men's tour, many individuals may assume that African Americans are just now getting into golf, especially with the current interest in getting more Black youth involved in the sport.

Two books should help correct that fallacy.

At the start of the 1990s, there was a paucity of books and materials on African Americans in golf. That changed in 1992 with the publication of Just Let Me Play: The Story of Charlie Sifford, The First Black PGA Golfer. Later, in 1998, came Forbidden Fairways by Calvin Sinnete.

Now we have two new books, African American Golfers During the Jim Crow Era, by Marvin P. Dawkins and Graham C. Kinloch, and African Americans and America's Game of Golf, by Pete McDaniel. These provide a wealth of information about the history of Blacks and golf.

The authors discuss some of the same people and events, yet they take different approaches to the task. These books are not competitors. Rather, they complement each other. The Dawkins and Kinloch book has breadth and perspective, similar to survey research. The McDaniel book has depth and flavor, like ethnographic research.

Although Dawkins is the son of one of the journeyman Black professional golfers from the era of segregation, he and Kinloch, who is White, are virtual outsiders to the game. McDaniel, an African American, is definitely an insider. A former caddie, he played the game at a moderately high level of proficiency and now is a well-established senior writer for Golf Digest, the country's leading golf magazine.

Dawkins' and Kinloch's very readable book uses golf as a case study of race relations in the 20th century. As sociologists, they take a scholarly approach, providing references and developing a race relations stage model of "Black golf and White racism."

They identify six stages: total exclusion, limited minority roles, enforced segregation, discrimination, desegregation battles and limited integration. For each, they describe the racist act and the African Americans' response -- from building their own institutions to filing lawsuits challenging the status quo.

The authors chronicle African Americans' participation in golf from its early days -- beginning with John Shippen, who played in the second U.S. Open in 1895, and Dr. George F. Grant, a prominent Black dentist from Boston who patented the first golf tee in 1899. They continue with the development of the Black United Golf Association in 1926, Black clubs "without real estate" and Black-owned golf courses in the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

However, the book's greatest contribution is its detailed description of golf's popularity among African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s, of the battles Blacks waged from 1940 to 1960 to play on public courses and of the role Joe Louis played.

The authors demonstrate that golf was quite popular in the Black press in the 1930s and 1940s, especially outside the South. In fact, golf ranked second only to baseball in sports coverage, and its popularity was obvious from the many court battles African Americans fought to gain access to public courses and to the PGA tour.

It may be somewhat surprising that a book on golf should revise the opinions of many about Louis, best known as a boxing champion. Widely regarded as a rather dimwitted Uncle Tom, Louis comes off quite differently in this book. …

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