As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s influential “I Have a Dream” speech rang out loud over our nation’s capital nearly 53 years ago, it served as a powerful cry for the equality of all Americans and made headlines across the country.
Yet less than a mile away, a quieter struggle had been underway for many years: to topple barriers of discrimination that had long since been built up on the fairways and greens of Washington D.C.’s public golf courses.
Breaking Down Barriers at East Potomac Golf Course
Since the time of its construction in the early 1900s, the municipally-owned East Potomac Golf Course had been a “white only” facility. African Americans had tried to play the course several times but were always met with racism, prejudice and sometimes violence. To play a full 18-hole round of golf in peace, African Americans had to drive as far away as New York City.
In 1941, Washington D.C.’s African American golf community sought the help of prominent politician and Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes.
Ickes declared that African American golfers were citizens and taxpayers who had the same right to play public golf courses as anyone else.
While it took many years before discriminatory policies were completely removed, other major victories were won along the road to equality for D.C.’s minority golfers.
Finding A Place to Play at Langston Golf Course
In the early 1930s, the African American golf community rallied to have a golf course built on which they could freely play the game they loved.
In 1939, a nine-hole track called Langston Golf Course was constructed. It wasn’t perfectly manicured, but golfers of all creeds and color could enjoy it.
Several years later, Langston expanded to 18-holes and has since served as an important training ground for great minority golfers such as Lee Elder, the first African American golfer to play in the The Masters.
The First Tee Proves Golf is a Game for Everyone
Despite their tumultuous past, Washington D.C. municipal golf courses now serve as model examples for equality and inclusion.
Today, both East Potomac and Langston are proud program locations for The First Tee of Greater Washington, DC.
Since becoming a chapter 16 years ago, The First Tee of Greater Washington, DC has taught golf to participants of all backgrounds. The First Tee also teaches young people The First Tee Nine Core Values and life skills that can be used off the course, such as respecting others and appreciating diversity.