- Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf by Lane Demas
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Lane Demas, an associate professor of history at Central Michigan University, has penned the most important study of African American golfers yet published. The author masterfully weaves the story of black golfers into the African American journey for equality and personhood. The work is laced with historical nuggets as Demas traces black golf from ancient Egypt to slave caddies, to George Grant and the invention of the golf tee, to the pioneer black amateur and professional golfers, to Tiger Woods.
Blacks were pitted against the color-line in golf as they were in every other sport from boxing to baseball. Struggling for admission and acceptance in the world of professional white golfers since the founding of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) in 1916, blacks established their own association, the United Golfers Association (UGA), in 1925. Their continuing fight for the integration of the PGA was made even more difficult by the organization's official adoption of the "Caucasian-only clause" in 1934 lasting for twenty-seven years thereafter.
Even the Harlem Renaissance did not earn blacks acceptance into the privileged world of white golf and its country clubs. African Americans built their own country clubs and golf courses, such as the famous Shady Rest County Club in South Plains, New Jersey, which served Harlem's elites, both non-golfers and golfers, including James Weldon Johnson, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Chuck Webb, and Count Basie.
Female players Nettie Speedy, Maggie Mae Hathaway, and Sarah Spencer Washington, were mainstays in the development and promotion of African American social clubs, golf courses, and important as players. They helped to bring other black women into the sport. None excelled more on the greens than the great Althea Gibson.
The author does not avoid the critics of black golfing such as W. E. B. Du Bois, H. L. Mencken, Marcus Garvey, Father Divine, Thur-good Marshall, and Ella Baker. For many it was a game of privilege, conspicuous consumption, and a waste of intellect and resources. The NAACP was hesitant to devote any of its resources to the fight [End Page 129] to desegregate golf courses and clubs. However, the struggle on the greens gained recognition as a part of the overall battle against the color line and racial discrimination with the Supreme Court victory of Holmes v. Atlanta (1955). The win against segregated public golf courses in Georgia was a substantive implementation of the Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and a blow against the counter-revolution occurring in the defiant Jim Crow South.
Golf echoed the protest spirt of the times from the debates about integration to direct-action and Black Power. Joe Louis's favorite sport outside the boxing ring was golf. The Champ sponsored tournaments and individual players, along with taking to the links himself. Sammy Davis, Jr. and other celebrities lent name and fame to the movement on the greens.
The author places the pioneer black golfers within the movement for civil rights: Walter Speedy, John Shippen, Bill Spiller, Ted Rose, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, and others. Some were, of course, more radical than others—just like the movement and its leading voices-such as Bill Spiller, one of the most militant of the black golfers who engaged in direct-action protest against the PGA and segregated golf tournaments.
The final chapter is devoted to Tiger Woods and is a valuable exploration of race, class, and ethnic identity that Woods personifies. The chapter makes perfect sense, but ends the book without a conclusion or even a final paragraph in which the author ties the pieces together and gives the reader a concluding salvo to golf and its importance to the civil rights movement. That missing hole-in-one aside, Demas is to be commended for putting the game of privilege into its proper historical context as a significant player in the struggle for civil rights. His is a vital contribution to sport...