The other day, I went to the movies. The picture I saw was entitled“42”. For me, it was a wonderful portrayal of Jackie Robinson’s valiant and successful struggle as he broke Baseball’s Color Barrier. His story was truly big, because, at the time, Baseball was our National Pastime and dominated all other sports in both popularity and in monetary opportunity.
Other great athletes, in less notable fields, suffered for a long time. One of those sports is Golf. Today, a talented Black Athlete, Tiger Woods, is number one in the world. In fact, when Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997, he thanked golfers like Teddy Rhodes, Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown and Larry Elder for opening the doors of professional golf to Black Americans.
Even in 1997, his victory was tainted by an off-color and uncalled for remark at the victory banquet when Fuzzy Zoeller who played, but did not win, while speaking from the podium, said, ”maybe next year since Tiger is now champion we’ll be served Fried Chicken, instead of Steak… a derogatory stereotype popularized by the Black Face Minstrel Shows of yore.
Unnecessary, maybe even if said in jest by Fuzzy, but some prejudices die hard. It was a hurtful slur aimed at Tiger’s Ethnicity.
In 1966, I was introduced to the golf world in a big way when I ran the AWSDO (The Andy Williams San Diego). In my naiveté, I had no idea of the prejudicial undercurrent. So, I was overwhelmed when a respected African-American Reporter named Maggie Hathaway from the Los Angeles Sentinel came to me prior to our 1970 Tournament and asked if we could give one of our 3 sponsor exemptions to a golfer name Pete Brown.
Understand, at that point in time, I really didn’t know who Maggie was, nor did I really understand whom Pete Brown the golfer was. Maggie proceeded to enlighten me.
Up to that point, Pete was the only African-American to win a PGA Tour event. Somehow, he was always omitted from PGA Tournaments despite the fact he had won the USG (Negro) National Open Championship and the Lone Star Open 4 times each, plus he was a 3-time winner of the North and South Championship.
As Maggie related all this to me, I felt there was something definitely wrong. So I asked Andy, to give Pete an exemption. Once I told him the following story he was quick to react and Pete was in.
You see, as name sponsor of the tournament, we were given three exemptions to allow anyone we wished to be in the field. We chose Pete as one! Ironically, Jack Nicklaus was the overwhelming favorite to win. Instead, Pete won in a playoff against Tony Jacklin.
I learned from Maggie how tight the Iron Curtain against Black Golfers was. Even to the point where the PGA in 1943 officially amended its constitution making it policy to restrict membership to “professional golfers of the Caucasian race”.
The Los Angeles Open, however, flaunted the PGA rules. In 1948, two black golfers named Bill Spiller and Teddy Rhodes, both stars of the UGA, scored among the top ten in the Los Angeles Open. Certainly, good enough to qualify to the Richmond open the next week in Northern California… that is if they were white.
The rolls are filled with so many acts of discrimination, that this column is not larger enough to catalog them. Yet, as Maggie related it to me there was one act personally hit Andy and me where we lived?
In 1952, the San Diego County Chevrolet Association sponsored the San Diego Open. The sponsors invited Joe Louis, Boxing’s “Brown Bomber”. Louis was the retired Heavyweight Champion of the World… respected by all. At the same time, Bill Spiller easily qualified for the tournament.
Louis still hadn’t made up his mind whether, or not he would enter when Horton Smith, President of the PGA, contacted the Tournament organizers and told them in no uncertain language, that the rules forbade Blacks from playing in PGA-sponsored events.
That’s when the Tournament withdrew its invitation to Joe Louis… and that’s when the “Brown Bomber” decided he was going after all. Maggie didn’t need to convince me. In a small way, we had to right one wrong.
Later, I became both a friend and admirer of Maggie Hathaway. In her own way, she made many changes for all minorities. She was responsible along with Sammy Davis Jr, in bringing about the Image TV Awards. As President of the Beverly Hills/ NAACP chapter, she had many causes. A beautiful woman with an outstanding voice earlier she appeared in many movies and often doubled for the great Lena Horne.
Her fight for equality never ended. In 1997, the City of Los Angeles renamed one of its Public Courses for her. I was proud to be her friend, just a I would have been if I had known Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and so many others of whom I might not have heard.
Maggie lived and breathes the last paragraph of our “Pledge of Allegiance”” one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Words not to be muttered without meaning, but instead words to live by.