Junior Golfers Benefit Today from Barriers That Were Broken Years Ago

Categories: Blog, The First Tee Nine Core Values, Uncategorized

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.

Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior from 1933 to 1946
Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior from 1933 to 1946

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.

Lee Elder (photo by Stan Badz)
Lee Elder (photo by Stan Badz)

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.


2 responses to “Junior Golfers Benefit Today from Barriers That Were Broken Years Ago

  1. During the time frame (Black History Month) – the weather is cold (unless you reside in Florida/CA, AZ, Nevada, Texas) and the coaches don’t get to mentor/coach young golfers concerning the struggle African American (Blacks) had to endure.

    Can we include a session in the BIRDIE/EAGLE category to discuss this important time in history? Maybe, have the students read the book “Uneven Lies”. and write a essay on the book.

    It is great to express concerns during Black History Month; however we can always “DO BETTER”

  2. I am the proud Grandfather of beautiful bi-racial grandchildren who are participants in the Raleigh NC/Triad First Tee Program. This program not only is giving them the opportunity to learn how to successfully play the wonderful game of golf, but is teaching life skills that will help them become responsible students and outstanding citizens.

    May God continue to bless and use the men and women who have committed their time and lives in working with children of all races, ages, genders and abilities.

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