Find of the Month

Each month we highlight interesting, important, and odd items from our collection, along with the stories they tell.

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October 2023 - Golf discrimination


The Washington State Board Against Discrimination held a public hearing on September 9, 1959, on the matter of non-white golfers being barred from joining golf clubs in Seattle. The clubs in question were private organizations but were affiliated with Seattle’s city-owned golf courses. While the clubs did not have discriminatory bylaws, rules such as requiring applicants to be sponsored by current members effectively kept their doors closed.

The hearing began with several Black golfers testifying about their experiences being refused membership. The lead witness was Robert Wright, who had been rejected more than once. He had then attempted to form an integrated club at Jefferson Park but the Park Board denied the application. Another golfer said he was told the club he applied to was afraid of losing membership in associations if they accepted him.

Tournaments were run by local golf associations, who required membership in one of the clubs to participate. When Black golfers who were rejected from existing clubs opted to form their own organization, the Fir State Club, that club was denied entry into the 1954 tournament because the existing clubs were deemed sufficient. Wright’s son Billy, who won the National Public Links championship in 1959, had not been able to play in the city amateur championships in some years.

Officers of the clubs also spoke at the hearing. (The clubs had formerly been named after the three municipal courses; after being told by the Park Board that they needed to either adopt non-discriminatory policies or stop using the course names, all three men’s clubs opted for the latter.) The president of the Bayview (formerly West Seattle) club denied that they engaged in discrimination, but conceded that they had no Black members and could not recall any white person being rejected for membership. The Beacon Hill (formerly Jefferson Park) club’s president acknowledged that two of the Black golfers who were rejected were qualified to join, as they "are of good character and are good golfers." Other documents in the file indicate that one concern was about non-white members attending their dances and other social events.

The captain of the Seattle Tennis Club, which hosted city and state championships, testified that non-white players regularly participated in their tournaments and used club facilities "without incident." He told the board that "he did not know of any other sport than golf which holds championships in Seattle which are not open to all players." Another witness reported that Black golfers were able to play in tournaments in Tacoma, Spokane, and the Tri-Cities, and that "the problem is localized in Seattle."

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Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
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The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.