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Thu, 08.06.1936

The Wake Robin Golf Club is Founded

*On this date in 1936, the Wake Robin Golf Club of Washington, D. C., was formed.  This was one of the first all-Black Women's Golf Clubs in America.

Thirteen women held their first meeting at the home of Helen Webb Harris at 79 R Street NW that evening. She was an educator and the wife of a prominent Washington physician.  Each founding member was married to an associate of Washington's all-Black, all-male Royal Golf Club, and they were tired of staying home on weekends while their husbands played.

They weren't trying to get into country clubs; they just wanted to get on the golf course. At the time, all but one of the District's public courses, the Lincoln Memorial, a nine-hole, sand-green design in what is now West Potomac Park, were off limits to any black players. Country clubs across America were off-limits to almost all people of color unless they were carrying golf bags, shining shoes, or serving food. Named after the purplish wake-robin wild flower plentiful in the Mid-Atlantic region, the club blossomed almost from the start though not without a few problems. There was some resistance from the men of the Royal Club. Yet Wake Robin members played regularly at the Lincoln Memorial course, still enduring the taunts of men. They made frequent excursions to courses in Baltimore and Philadelphia that were more accommodating to Blacks.

In 1938, the Wake Robin Club pushed the process of desegregating the District of Columbia public courses by drafting and sending a petition to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. To mollify the petitioners, Ickes approved the construction of a nine-hole course on an abandoned trash dump site.  In 1939, Langston Golf Course was built near Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington. It wasn't pretty, especially when players tried to retrieve balls from under the old tires or rusty tin cans were strewn about the property.  But finally, Black golfers had a place to call their own. Today, Langston is an 18-hole public facility that still attracts predominately black clients. Both Wake Robin and the Royal Club continued to press Ickes to open up the city's other public facilities, and in 1941, he issued an order that did. When the doors opened at the city's other courses, some members (at the East Potomac Course) were stoned.

White men around there harassed Blacks, and when they'd hit the ball, the children around would come out and pick it up and run with it.  Still, Wake Robin didn't curb its political action to the D. C. area. Like many other minority clubs, Wake Robin was part of the movement to force the PGA to drop its "White-only" rule for eligibility, which it did in 1961. The club also helped organize and support the United Golfers Association, which put on tournaments throughout the country for the best Black professionals. Wake Robin persevered and prospered while it battled to end the exclusionary heritage of golf. Currently, members, numbering more than 50, play weekly throughout the Washington area. There are regular weekend matches, monthly tournaments, and a club championship.

Most of the current members are aware of their gracious history. The current membership inherited all of the club's memorabilia collected through the years, including Helen Harris's original postcard inviting her 12 friends to the first meeting in 1936. This can be found in a wing of the Howard University library in Washington, D. C.

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Those days when it was all right to be a criminal, or die, a postman's son, full of hallways and garbage, behind the hotdog store or in the parking... LETTER TO E. FRANKLIN FRAZIER. by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones).
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