Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lane Demas's "Game of Privilege"

Lane Demas is associate professor of history at Central Michigan University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf, and reported the following:
Page 99 introduces a key celebrity who encouraged African Americans to take up golf as much as anyone else in history. From 1937 to 1949, Joe Louis was world heavyweight boxing champion, wildly popular with white and black Americans, and the world’s most recognizable African American. Yet he often drew as much attention for his interest in golf than for his boxing prowess. Stories of his devotion to the game were legendary: as the page notes, press reports in 1941 hinted that excessive golf caused the breakdown of his marriage; five years later “Louis threatened to sue Ebony after an expose claimed he owed $60,000 in golf debts and played high-stakes matches with entertainers Bing Crosby and Bob Hope for $1,000 per hole.” Louis regularly hinted that he intended to give up boxing for good so he could hit the links more.

Joe Louis was also a major supporter of the United Golfers Association (UGA), a black golf organization that operated from 1925 to 1975 and served as a parallel institution to the all-white Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). (That’s why he is introduced in chapter three, “Our Masters: The Development of the United Golfers Association.”) Louis appeared at UGA events around the country, organized its tournament stop in Detroit (the Joe Louis Open), and helped finance a cadre of black players who routinely desegregated PGA tour events beginning in the 1940s – including Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, and Charlie Sifford. With Louis’s support, the UGA blossomed into much more than a “black golf tour” and it was unlike any other black professional sporting organization in American history. With tournament stops around the country, including the South, it sustained a lasting, national reach that rivaled any single black baseball league. Nearly every black professional who competed on the PGA/LPGA tours before the 1996 emergence of Tiger Woods (27 men and 3 women) participated in UGA events.

Along those lines, page 99 is relatively representative. The book tries to cover the history of black professionals and familiar, high-profile folks – from caddie John Shippen competing in the 1896 U.S. Open, to singer Marvin Gaye taking up golf in the 1970s. And, yes, it concludes with a chapter on Woods.

Yet Game of Privilege actually devotes more coverage elsewhere: to the little-known stories of black caddies who shaped the game in the South against all odds; to the 29 major lawsuits African Americans successfully organized between 1940 and 1970 to desegregate municipal golf courses nationwide; indeed, to the fundamental meanings of golf in American history and the intriguing relationship between the struggle to integrate the game and the broader Civil Rights movement.
Learn more about Game of Privilege at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue