When Mayor Coleman Young joined the Detroit Golf Club

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During a fundraiser at the Detroit Golf Club in the 1980s, a group of prominent Detroit blacks spoke with Mayor Coleman Young.

“I know you really have to have fun out there,” said Young, a non-golfer, as they watched the course, according to Dennis Archer, who took over from Young as mayor.

“We have each indicated that we are not members,” Archer said recently. Young’s reaction: “Frustration and anger,” Archer remembers. “He couldn’t believe it. “

Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.

Archer understood Young’s posture. After all, the club had rejected Archer’s membership application several years earlier.

“I don’t know of any reason other than my color,” Archer told the Free Press at the time.

Young began to push back on what he and many others saw as racism, as he had done throughout his adult life. In a town where nearly seven in ten residents were black, a golf club bordered by the homes of prosperous African Americans remained isolated at the turn of the 20th century.

So Young has applied for membership. “Of course,” he wrote in his memoirs.

Coleman Young answers questions in a 1984 interview.

The mayor’s effort did not come without controversy. The app became a hot topic in newspapers and radio broadcasts in late 1985 and early 1986, as the club’s racial makeup became widely known.

In a letter to the editor of the Free Press, Marvin W. Smith of Detroit said that the exclusion of blacks from the golf club “constitutes a humiliation of the people of Detroit on a city scale.” Noting the exclusion of Young and Archer, then a prominent attorney at the Michigan Supreme Court, Kenneth Davies of Detroit wrote: “I am outraged.

Although the widespread revulsion over an all-white club in Detroit was not shared by everyone.

“In the spirit of fair play, why doesn’t the free press identify private black clubs that don’t include white members? John W. Wayne of Grosse Pointe Farms asked in a letter to the editor.

The Detroit Golf Club on March 8, 2011.

Founded in 1899, DGC is located on 220 acres of woodland just west of Palmer Park on the west side of town. Its pavilion was designed in 1916 by the famous architect Albert Kahn; the greens were the work of Donald Ross, the famous golf course designer. The club had 1,100 members in 1985.

Robert Roselle, executive vice president of Campbell-Ewald Co., nominated Young for membership. His wife, June Roselle, was a young lady who ran Cobo Hall. Archbishop Edmund Szoka, another club member, supported Young’s candidacy.

Robert Paul Roselle.

“This is a golf club in the heart of Detroit, in a city that is 65% black,” Szoka told The Free Press.

Szoka’s support for Young generated its own controversy, as the spiritual leader of 1.5 million Catholics in the Detroit metro area was forced to defend his membership in an all-white club. He said that “it never occurred to me to ask if there were” black members when he joined two years earlier.

Some critics have called the golf club problem trivial.

In view of the “greater social and moral issues facing Church and State,” Frank McSherry of Pontiac wrote that Szoka’s endorsement “is about as important as the Rockefellers endorsing Lodges.”

(left to right) Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young and Archbishop of Detroit Edmund Szoka.

Young met with the club’s board of directors in December 1985 and notice of his candidacy was posted for 30 days, as was customary. He applied for a non-golf membership, which allowed access to the dining room and other facilities and required an entrance fee of $ 1,250 and a monthly membership fee of $ 175, adjusted for inflation. . The registration fee for a cheapest golf membership for a family was $ 30,000 in today’s dollars.

Finally, in January 1986, the board of directors approved Young’s membership.

“This action is a step forward for the club and for the city of Detroit,” Young said in a statement. “I hope this will be the start of a new era for the club.”

Archer said: “I think hopefully now that the mayor has removed the barriers, others will be able to be admitted as full members of the golf club.”

This is exactly what happened.

In July 1986, Walt Watkins, an executive of the National Bank of Detroit, became the second black member. Watkins, who had a full membership, later recalled meeting Young at a dinner party at a house next to the club and thanking him, as the membership helped entertain bank customers. current and potential.

Walt Watkins.

“I introduced myself to him and told him that because of you I’m a member and playing on that golf course behind us over there,” Watkins said.

At the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this month at the club, the John Shippen National Invitational was held in honor of the first black professional golfer and to provide more playing opportunities for black golfers. Shippen, the son of a slave, played in several US Openings starting in 1896.

DGC has had three black presidents since 2003: Walter Elliott, Lane Coleman and its current leader, Mark Douglas, a member of the second generation. Mark’s father, Walt, who ran New Detroit Inc. and operated the Avis Ford car dealership, joined him in the late 1980s.

“It obviously sends a good message in today’s environment with what we’re dealing with on so many fronts – racial equality and things of that nature,” Mark Douglas told The Free Press earlier this month. this.

“It’s a positive story at a time when you don’t necessarily have a lot of positive stories to tell.”

Conrad Mallett Jr., deputy mayor and member of the Detroit Golf Club, was appointed by Young in 1986. He recalls that Young did not see club membership as an opportunity for himself but understood that it could be important. for his cohorts as well as for younger and future generations of blacks and other people of color.

“My father was very proud that his son was a member of the golf club,” said Mallett, referring to his father, Conrad Mallett Sr., who worked as a caddy at the Jim Crow Private Golf Club in Texas at the end. from the 1930s and later. became deputy general manager of former mayor Jerome Cavanagh and director of transport under Young.

Jermaine Wyrick, a DGC cadet in the late 1980s and former Coleman A. Young Foundation scholar, attended the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this month.

A Detroit lawyer who is African American, Wyrick remembers when he and other black caddies clapped for support when they saw Watkins play the course.

We were far from the time when the only blacks in the club worked there. He credits Young with the change.

“He was definitely a trailblazer,” Wyrick said.

Ken Coleman is a longtime Detroit resident with a passion for chronicling black life in Motor City.


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