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Presidential Pride: African-American Players React And Reflect

Article Courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour
By Lisa D. Mickey

When Barack Obama raised his right hand one week ago to be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, two African-American professional golfers were glued to the TV with millions of other Americans and viewers from around the world.

So many memories flooded the minds of Renee Powell of East Canton, Ohio, and Paula Pearson-Tucker of Miami during that telecast. Tears came easily - especially as Powell watched the daylong coverage of the historic inauguration with her 92-year-old father, William Powell. Her dad had served his country in Europe during World War II only to come home and be barred from playing golf at municipal courses. A restrictive "Caucasians Only" clause prevented him from joining the PGA of America.

For Powell and Pearson-Tucker, and so many other African-Americans, this was no ordinary Presidential Inauguration. This was a signal that truly, times were changing.

"It was only 40 years ago that black people had fire hoses pointed at them and dogs let loose on them just because they wanted the right to vote," said Powell, 62, the second of only three African-Americans who have played on the LPGA Tour in 59 years. "And now, here is this President who was able to come up from the background he came from, and the color he is, to reach the highest elected office in the free world."

Pearson-Tucker, 52, who plays on the Duramed FUTURES Tour and serves as executive director of Fore Life, Inc., a golf diversion program for troubled youth in Miami, suddenly could see the payoff from so many sacrifices.

"I've heard Dr. Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' speech every year since he was assassinated, but it had a completely different meaning this year," she said. "He died for this. This was his vision. And it happened."

The inauguration of an African-American as the U.S. President was nearly unthinkable when Renee Powell played on the LPGA Tour from 1967-1980. In those days, it was not uncommon for her to drive all day to reach a tournament site and go to the hotel where she had planned to stay only to discover that her reservation had mysteriously been canceled. And more often than not, Powell would be stopped from entering LPGA player locker rooms or she would be stopped at golf club gates and quizzed indefinitely by guards who did not believe she was a touring professional.

"That LPGA badge disappeared when they saw the color of my skin," said Powell. "And even when I ate in restaurants with other players -- white players -- everybody was served except for us."

The late Althea Gibson, a former tennis champion who won titles at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, played on the LPGA Tour from 1963-1977. But even her star power in tennis offered little comfort in the world of golf. By decree of the host club (not the LPGA Tour, whose by-laws purposefully were inclusive), Gibson wasn't allowed in the player locker room. She always changed her shoes in the parking lot. [Note: the third and last African-American player on the LPGA Tour was LaRee Sugg, who played from 1995-2000.]

"Young people often don't understand that so many made sacrifices for us to get to this point," said Pearson-Tucker. "Unless you've been called bad words or had dogs sicked on you, you just can't understand."

Powell remembers the segregated water fountains marked for "Whites" and for "Colored" people in this country, and she remembers when African-Americans weren't allowed to swim in public pools. While her father was forced to buy his own land and build his own golf course just to play the game he loved and to run his own club, Powell's mother was not allowed to go to nursing school because of the color of her skin.

So for this new President -- a man whose mother was a white American and whose father was a black man from Kenya -- last week's socio-political milestone was far more than some legal words repeated 44 different times throughout history on the stairs of the Capitol, an iconic structure in Washington, D.C., built by slaves. It was a turning point, a moment of pause, and an upward look at the future for so many people of color.

"It took everybody to vote for this man and give him a chance," said Powell. "He didn't get there only because of black votes."

"A lot of our members are French-Canadians and they were just as excited as I was," added Pearson-Tucker, who also manages Lauderhill Golf Course outside Miami. "I saw a lot of white people with tears in their eyes that day."

And while the past for these women can never be reversed or forgotten, both agree that last week's new page in American history was a giant step toward closing that painful and humiliating chapter.

"It's a beginning for people to understand and work toward inclusiveness," said Powell. "That Presidential Inauguration was such a huge history lesson for everyone, regardless of what color you are or how you voted."

Added Pearson-Tucker: "It reminded me that we're all in this together and everybody has to find something they can do to help the nation and to help themselves. We're on our way, at last."

Contact: Lisa D. Mickey, Duramed FUTURES Tour, 386-274-6216, lisa@duramedfuturestour.com.

Topics: Player Feature, Powell, Renee

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