The United States Golf Association is honoring the accomplishments in the game of golf of three transcendent African-American athletes – Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and Althea Gibson – with a special exhibit at the USGA Museum.
Opening Feb. 17, 2012, and running through the end of July, “American Champions and Barrier Breakers” celebrates the lives, athletic achievements and important legacies of these American icons to the game of golf. Featuring artifacts, documents and photographs, the exhibit also highlights some of the numerous contributions that African Americans have made to golf.
Curated by Susan Wasser, assistant manager of operations at the USGA Museum, the exhibit is part of the USGA’s ongoing commitment to attracting a diverse audience to the game. This retrospective is one of the initiatives surrounding the African-American Golf Archive, which was formed in 2010 by the USGA and The PGA of America to collect, preserve and celebrate the history of African Americans in golf.
“Our exhibition explores the role of these three great American champions and how their participation and convictions changed the game,” said Wasser. “As the world’s leading institution for the study and education of golf history, the USGA Museum is well suited to preserve and celebrate the African-American golf experience in this way.”
Very few athletes endured as many obstacles as Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The Hall of Fame second baseman helped open the door for other great black ballplayers such as Willie Mays, Bob Gibson and Hank Aaron, who called Robinson his “personal hero.” After retiring from baseball, Robinson became a competitive player among the great African-American golfers of his era and was a tireless advocate for equal opportunity in the game of golf.
Robinson played frequently with Louis, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. Louis left an indelible stamp on golf as the first African American to play in a PGA Tour event, the 1952 San Diego Open. Louis also provided financial support to several African-American golfers, including many players on the United Golfers Association (UGA) Tour. His golf legacy continues with his son’s involvement as chief executive officer of The First Tee. Joe Louis Barrow Jr. heads this charitable organization dedicated to providing young people of all backgrounds “educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.”
As one of the top tennis players of her era, Althea Gibson won 11 Grand Slam titles – five singles and six doubles – between 1956 and 1958 and ascended to the world’s No. 1 ranking in 1957. The first African-American woman to win Wimbledon, Gibson also became the first African American to join the LPGA Tour, in 1964. She enjoyed a successful career that included a runner-up finish in the 1970 Len Immke Buick Open and 11 USGA championship appearances. Through her athletic accomplishments and perseverance, she set an example for future generations of female athletes.
Artifacts featured in “American Champions and Barrier Breakers” include Gibson’s golf bag, clubs and scorecard; Louis’ contestant badge from the 1949 UGA National Championship; and Robinson’s head cover, which is branded with his uniform number, 42.
In conjunction with the opening of the exhibit, the USGA Museum will host a one-day symposium on Saturday, Feb. 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The symposium will feature presentations by Barrow; Renee Powell, the second African American to play on the LPGA Tour; Dr. Calvin Sinnette, author of “Forbidden Fairways;” Bill Wright, the first African American to win a USGA championship, the 1959 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship; and Dr. Yohuru Williams, Chief Historian, Vice President for Public Education & Research for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
The symposium is free and open to the public. To register, contact the Museum receptionist at (908) 234-2300 ext. 1057 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.