In the Rough

A half-century before the Tiger Woods era, black Miamians fought a losing battle to hit the links

But Williams wouldn't get a chance to argue the case. On October 16, 1950, the justices remanded it to the Florida Supreme Court, ordering the court to reconsider its ruling in light of two decisions the U.S. Supreme Court had handed down earlier that year. One reversed a Texas decision that justified barring a black man from the University of Texas Law School because a similar state institution existed for blacks. The other reversed a state court decision that allowed the University of Oklahoma to confine black students to designated areas in classrooms, libraries, and cafeterias. NAACP lawyers had brought both cases.

Nearly a year passed before the Florida Supreme Court issued its ruling, once again affirming Judge Carroll's decision. In a 4-2 majority opinion issued in August 1951, Associate Justice Hugh Taylor wrote that the Texas and Oklahoma cases differed fundamentally from Rice v. Arnold, because education differs fundamentally from golf. "We take judicial notice that the game of golf is of such a nature that it requires the maintenance of links which cover a considerable area and that it can be played by persons alone or in very small groups," he wrote. "There are of necessity some, but limited, contacts between the various groups so playing, particularly around the clubhouse and starting tees. The purpose and function of the game is to obtain the pleasure and exercise incident to the playing, and the rivalry and association between persons who arrange in advance to play together. The exercise, the rivalry , and the association are not enhanced by the other persons who may, on the same day or during the same hours, elect to enjoy the facilities. This is quite different from an educational institution."

The state justices also relied on an 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision maintaining that racial discrimination on a Louisiana train was constitutional as long as the segregated accommodations were equal. The Dade County Circuit Court had apparently concluded the scheduling system at the Miami Springs course fit the bill. Further, they noted, segregation was legal in Miami.

Amateur competitor Paula Tucker, who teaches kids with Delancey, still hears the n-word when she takes black students to public golf courses
Steve Satterwhite
Amateur competitor Paula Tucker, who teaches kids with Delancey, still hears the n-word when she takes black students to public golf courses

In March 1952 the U.S. Supreme Court took another look at Rice v. Arnold. The justices let the Florida court's reconsidered ruling stand, following a precedent of not interfering with lower court decisions upholding segregated recreational facilities. Rice's case would not be the one to drive the separate-but-equal doctrine into the water trap of history. But Rice v. Arnold had begun to chip away at segregation on the Miami Springs links. "Joe Rice, he's the man," says Joseph Delancey. "He's the one who started it all, about if you pay taxes for the parks, you should be able to play on the golf course."

Rice, who at age twelve began golfing in Delray Beach with a club made from a bicycle handlebar, says he believed such logic would easily win over the justices. "I thought the lawsuit would be a walkover for us. I didn't expect to have to fight it that much," says the 79-year-old, who has lived in Stamford, Connecticut, since 1957. "[Authorities] said one day for blacks and six days for whites was equal. We told them, 'Well then, we don't want equal; we want the same.'"

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision finally found the separate-but-equal doctrine to be in violation of the Constitution. The ruling against the Topeka, Kansas, school board became the catalyst for a decade of court cases aimed at abolishing segregation, not only in public schools but also at recreational facilities. In subsequent decisions the high court invoked the same legal reasoning to open up segregated beaches, parks, and golf courses throughout the South. In 1955, in the case of Holmes et al. v. Atlanta, the court ruled in favor of desegregating public golf courses. But in Dade County, authorities delayed enforcing the ruling. Blacks who wanted to golf still had to settle for Mondays, with few exceptions.

But pressure to open up Miami Springs was mounting. One factor was that more and more middle-class blacks, especially Northerners, began to vacation in South Florida. "Rich black people with money started coming," says Delancey. "So if it rained on Mondays, they didn't have no chance to do what they wanted to do. So they wanted to know whether they was first-class citizens or not. They would say, 'Why can't I play every day? I got a million dollars.'" Then in 1953 Ray Mitchell, the founder of the North-South Tournament, the biggest black-sponsored golf competition in the nation, relocated the amateur contest from Jacksonville to the Miami Springs course. During those tournaments 200 or more blacks played all week long.

But Joe "Roach" Delancey wasn't around to witness those changes. He'd settled in New York, far from his hometown where racism intruded on something so simple as golf. "It was mind over matter, I guess," he says. "No use goin' [back South]. You can't do what you wanted to do." In 1949, after working for four years as an assistant and golf tutor for world middleweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson, he moved from Mamaroneck to St. Louis. A year later he moved to Southern California and opened a retail clothing business. He never stopped golfing.

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