Honoring the Man who Broke Golf’s Color Barrier

Pro Tour Event

Charlie Sifford Drive leads right into Chester Washington Golf Course

The man who broke golf’s color barrier now has a street named after him in South Los Angeles – aptly, one that leads right into the Chester Washington Golf Course.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas unveiled the new street sign over the road previously known as West 120th Street between Western and Van Ness avenues. It is now called “Charlie Sifford Drive,” in honor of the first African American to earn a Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour card, in 1961.

“It’s important that we honor Mr. Sifford’s tremendous accomplishments so that all may be inspired by his courage and perseverance,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at the ceremony, which marked the culmination of the Advocates Pro Golf Tour.

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Charlie Sifford, 1961

Sifford, who passed away in February at age 92, has often been called the “Jackie Robinson of golf. For him, the hazards on the course included not only sand traps and water holes. With his trademark cigar, Sifford endured racist slurs from the gallery, segregation in clubhouses – even death threats. At a tournament in Arizona, someone left human waste for him to find in the hole at the first green.

“He was a strong-willed, tough individual with a stubborn streak,” Charles Sifford, Jr. said fondly of his father. “He was determined to succeed and he wasn’t going to let anybody or anything stand in his way.”

By breaking the color barrier, Sifford teed it up for other minority players like Tiger Woods to compete.

“He’s had a tremendous impact on the sport,” said Kenneth Bentley, executive director of the Advocates Pro Golf Tour. “But what I really admire about Charlie is that he went through all that discrimination, and he did it with class and dignity.”

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1922, Sifford learned to play while trying to make a living as a caddy in the Jim Crow South. After serving in the Army, he honed his swing in the United Golf Association, which allowed golfers of all races to play. Sifford won the UGA’s most important event – the National Negro Open – half a dozen times, including five years in a row during the 1950’s.

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Charles Sifford, Jr. displays the new street sign that bears his late father’s name. Charlie Sifford’s caddy, Jimmy Green, stands next to him.

By the time the PGA did away with its “Caucasian-only” membership clause in 1961, under legal pressure, Sifford was past his prime. Still, he won PGA Tour events in 1967 and 1969, as well as its Seniors’ Championship in 1975.

In 2004, Sifford became the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, which quoted him saying, “If you try hard enough, anything can happen.”

President Barack Obama awarded Sifford the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a ceremony at the White House in 2014. Other recipients that year included Meryl Streep, Stevie Wonder, Tom Brokaw, Isabel Allende and Stephen Sondheim.

On Sifford’s death, the president issued a statement calling him a golf legend who often faced “indignity and injustice even as he faced the competition… altering the course of the sport and the country he loved.”

“(Sifford) proved that he belonged,” the president added, “blazing a trail for future generations of athletes in America.”

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in front of the new street sign for Charles Sifford Drive, with former Assembley Member Steven Bradford and members of the Advocates Pro Tour board and athletes.

 

Taking a Stand on Voting Rights

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Acting on a pair of motions by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday backed proposed federal and state legislation that would strengthen voter rights and modernize the election process, and took a stand on the “one person, one vote” principle under debate at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both motions were approved just days after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 marked its 50th anniversary. “It is important that the Board of Supervisors continually improve and modernize the voting process in ways that ensure compliance with the spirit and intent of the Act,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

His first motion directed the county’s advocates in Washington D.C. to support H.R. 2867, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 pending before the U.S. Congress. The bill calls for updating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address modern-day voting discrimination; and for strengthening protections accorded to historically disenfranchised voters, voters with disabilities, and voters who rely on languages other than English.

The same motion also instructed county counsel to track the Evenwell v. Abbott case awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under debate is whether only eligible voters – not the entire population – should be counted in drawing legislative districts, which would lead to millions of ineligible children and immigrants being politically marginalized.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas believes the lawsuit attacks the “one person, one vote” principle, and he called for filing or joining an amicus brief endorsing the principle of proportional representation based on population. Betty Hung, Los Angeles policy director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, stressed the importance of his motion.

“The Voting Rights Act passed because of blood, sweat and tears, but voting rights are under attack again today,” she told the board. “We urge you all to stand up for the promise of America and to realize the promise of democracy.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ second motion directed the county’s lobbyists in Sacramento to support pending state legislation that would decrease administrative voters to voting; modernize voting systems; and increase voter turnout.

The Voting Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965 in the presence of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., banned discriminatory voting policies at all levels of government. However, modern-day attempts are underway to erect new barriers to voting, such as strict identification requirements, cuts to early voting programs, and restrictions on voter registration.

“These efforts are, in fact, meant to suppress voting, especially among voters of color and young voters,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The County needs to be able to advocate in a timely manner on bills that seek to improve both voter turnout and the election processes and procedures.”

A Golfer Who Broke Barriers

Charlie_Sifford_1961When the late Charlie Sifford played golf, the hazards on the course extended far beyond sand traps and water holes.

The first African American to earn a Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour card endured racist slurs from the gallery, segregation in clubhouses, even death threats.

By breaking the color barrier in 1961, Sifford teed it up for other black players like Tiger Woods to compete. He has often been called the Jackie Robinson of golf.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe to rename a portion of West 120th Street, between Western and Van Ness Avenues, after him.

“Charlie Sifford Way” will lead people right into Chester Washington Golf Course, which had been Sifford’s home course.

“It’s important that we honor Mr. Sifford’s tremendous accomplishments, so that all may be inspired by his courage and perseverance,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Sifford was born 1922 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and learned to play golf while trying to make a living as a caddy in the Jim Crow South.

After serving a tour of duty in the Army, he honed his swing in the United Golf Association, which allowed golfers of all races to play. The tour had been established by black golfers excluded from the PGA. Sifford won the UGA’s most important event – the National Negro Open – half a dozen times, including five years in a row during the 1950’s.

By the time the PGA did away with its “Caucasian-only” membership clause in 1961, under legal pressure, Sifford was past his prime. Still, he won PGA Tour events in 1967 and 1969, as well as its Seniors’ Championship in 1975.

In 2004, Sifford became the first African American inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, which quoted him saying, “If you try hard enough, anything can happen.”

In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Sifford the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a ceremony at the White House. Other recipients that year included Meryl Streep, Stevie Wonder, Tom Brokaw, Isabel Allende, and Stephen Sondheim.

When Sifford died in February at the age of 92, the president issued a statement calling him a golf legend who often faced “indignity and injustice even as he faced the competition… altering the course of the sport and the country he loved.”

“(Sifford) proved that he belonged,” the president added, “blazing a trail for future generations of athletes in America.”

A makeover that’s one for the books

Study for success

A C Bilbrew Library is poised to undergo a long-overdue $4.4-million makeover starting July 13.

Artistic renderings showing the new Living Wall, set to revitalize the outdoor space at AC Bilbrew Library.

“The AC Bilbrew library has long been an important community asset and these changes will make it even better,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “A community library is a central place for children and families to gather and learn in a safe environment and we are eager to see the library open its new doors soon. When these renovations are complete, everyone – from very young children to the elderly – will benefit.”

During the yearlong renovation, patrons will be able to borrow books at the Express Library in Athens Park, or at the Willowbrook, Compton, and Gardena Mayme Dear Libraries.

On a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, the county Board of Supervisors approved in January a plan  to refurbish the 21,000-sq. ft.  facility at 150 East El Segundo Boulevard that first opened in 1974.

MAIN IMAGE_Bilbrew LibraryThe project calls for updating much of the interior and exterior of the library using environmentally friendly materials and sustainable design techniques. Workers will use recycled materials, incorporate energy-efficient lighting, cooling and heating systems and other consumption-reducing measures. They will also install new walls and custom cabinetryreplace the carpet and ceiling, and update the data systems and public restrooms. By the time the library reopens, it should be as close to a “net zero energy” facility as possible.

Even the façade, landscaping and pathways to the library will be improved. A wheelchair-accessible ramp will be built at the main entrance to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The library was named after Madame A C Bilbrew, a community leader, poet, musician and deputy to the late Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. She was also a radio pioneer, becoming the first black person in the country to have her own radio show.

A C Bilbrew Library houses the Black Resource Center, which supports research and study on social, historical, musical and cultural aspects unique to the black experience. It has hosted the Los Angeles County Public Library system’s African American History Month Celebration since 1980.

The original library was located in a shopping center from 1964-1974. With the help of architect Vincent J. Proby, the county built the current facility and transferred services on Nov. 2, 1974.

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