‘Kid’ Corbin’s role in desegregating golf
A Bermudian played a major role in desegregating professional golf in the US. That fact was clearly brought home during the public lecture last week at the Ocean View Golf Club by New York University history professor Dr Jeffrey Sammons. It surfaced during his most enlightening discourse of the endeavours of Bermudan Louis Rafael (Kid) Corbin and during the intense question and answer period following his presentation. Dr. Sammons spearheads a project on unsung pioneers, institutions and events in the history of blacks in golf and other areas of sports. He came to Bermuda with his wife on a two-fold mission, first to attend the Grand Slam of Golf at Port Royal and to follow up on St George's-born Louis Rafael Corbin. The professor credits Corbin with being a major figure in causing the reversal of 'the Caucasian only' rule instituted by the PGA to stem the progression of black, or of African American golfers who began eclipsing their white superstars back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Corbin was one of the legendary black Bermudians known as the 'Crack of Dawn Pros' of Bermuda. Most famous of the others were the Lowe Brothers, Earl and George; Herman (Tucci) Bascome Sr, Rogers Outerbridge, Bill Pitt Sr., just to name a few, plus some Portuguese like Louis Moniz and 'Joe Burner' DaCosta (Portuguese then were regarded as 'third class citizens). They got their peculiar designation because, being black and caddies, they were only allowed to play a round of golf (up to the 17th hole) on Bermuda's famous courses from dawn until 8am, when the club members and tourists began asserting their rights to the courses. Some called it 'running golf'. Going to the 18th hole would have taken them too close to front doors of the rigidly racially, legally segregated hotels or clubs. Unlike his fellow 'crack of dawn golfers,' Corbin took his craft abroad. He connected with the famous world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, and is credited with cultivating Louis' addiction to golf and the fortune he poured in into the game for the benefit of black golfers. At the height of his championship, Louis was one of the richest and most famous black persons in the world. Corbin fully capitalised on his connection with the 'Brown Bomber' as Joe Louis was called. Dr Sammons revealed how his research on Corbin had proved him to have been a significant figure in golf as a player as a player, promoter, exhibitionist and an activist who demanded for fairness and justice for African Americans. He was not the go-along and get along kind of guy like some leading Afro American figures in the game. Corbin was brash and confrontational when it came to matters of race. While listening to Dr. Sammons, I formed the distinct impression that 'Kid' Corbin must have been the mold for Roosevelt Brown, who came a generation later; and earlier this year was celebrated as one of Bermuda's National Heroes for his exploits in combatting injustices impacting on people at home and abroad. Dr Jeffrey Sammons opened his lecture by making comparisons between Ocean View Golf Club and Clearview Golf Course in Cleveland, Ohio. Both courses have played a significant role, not only in the desegregation of the races in golf, but also, as evidenced in Bermuda with the socio-economic upward mobility of the black community. Clearview was the first golf course owned and operated by an African-American, Mr. William Powell. Today the club is operated by his daughter, former LPGA Tour Professional Ms Renee Powell, who first visited Bermuda at the invitation of Kim Swan to play in the Easter Lily Ladies Pro-Am in the 1990s and last year for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. The attentive audience at Ocean View was urged to petition for Ocean View GC to be 'listed,' like Clearview GC in America which is listed and protected on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. Dr Sammons revealed he became interested in Louis Raphael (Kid) Corbin whilst researching famed African American Golf Professional Jimmie DeVoe who became the first African-American to gain full PGA membership in 1962. Corbin and DeVoe, he said, were rivals and opposites with Corbin unwilling to accept the rigidly segregated system as he found it. In 1939, Corbin's entry into the US Open was denied by the USGA, a decision he vehemently objected to decried as being because of his race. His contentions led to his eventual deportation from the US; he remained on the stop list for more than six years.