Solomon Hughes, Sr. learned to play as a youngster growing up in his native Alabama. But he wasn’t allowed to play on the courses because of Jim Crow laws and customs in place at the time.
Yet while he worked his way up to caddy master at the country club where he worked, Hughes was encouraged by the resident pro to keep playing whenever he could. Eventually the young man was able to give golf lessons to the men and women club members.
As an adult, Hughes won his first tournament, the National Negro Open in New York State, at age 26 in 1935. The tourney was part of the National United Golfers Association, founded in the late 1920s by and for Black golfers unable to compete in the White-only events. A few years later, Hughes decided to take his golf game and his then-growing family up north hoping to shake off the racially restrictive ways of the South.
Hughes’ daughter Shirley Hughes said in a recent MSR phone interview that her father had narrowed down his relocation choices to three cities: Baltimore, Chicago or Minneapolis. He later settled on Minneapolis, following a childhood friend who transplanted here, she explained.
“He wanted to be able to play in parks [and] get desegregated education [for his children],” recalled Shirley of her father’s original intentions. “He thought he would be able to be a pro coming [up] north. Little did he know that racial segregation would follow him here.”
Actually, it didn’t — it was waiting for Hughes and his family upon arrival. Unlike the clearly visible “Whites only” signs he grew accustomed to down south, he found in Minneapolis a more subtle, racially segregated system when he moved here in 1943. But Hughes kept playing golf wherever he was allowed to in the Cities and continued making a name for himself on the UGA circuit.
He won the UGA’s “triple crown” in 1945 — the Joe Louis Open (Detroit), the Midwest Open (Toledo) and the Des Moines (Iowa) Open. Three years later, Hughes tried to enter a Professional Golf Association (PGA) sponsored tournament in St. Paul in 1948 in hopes of slipping by the group’s Whites only rule.
“I remember asking him how did he send in the registration, and he said he used a P.O. Box [because] if he used his address they would automatically know he was Black,” continued Shirley Hughes. “But they still found out he was Black and rejected his entrance.”
This prompted protests from the St. Paul Urban League, then led by Whitney Young, and consistent articles, columns and editorials in Cecil Newman’s Minneapolis Spokesman and St. Paul Recorder chastising tournament officials as well as the local mainstream newspapers for their status quo maintenance.
Hughes tried again in 1952, but this time with the support of the St. Paul Jaycees he and Ted Rhodes, another local Black golfer, each played in a threesome with White golfers in a non-PGA tournament in which PGA golfers were playing, and as a result became a historical footnote.
He kept on playing in tournaments, taught golf to both Blacks and Whites, and mentored others almost up to his death in 1987 from multiple myeloma, a rare form of leukemia.
“He won a senior tournament in Arizona a few years before he died,” said Shirley.
Although her father never got into the PGA, his tireless efforts got other Blacks in, such as Charlie Sifford, the first Black to get a PGA card in 1959, and later convinced the PGA to finally end its no-Blacks clause in 1961, all without any regrets.
“If he’d remained single, he probably would have kept at playing golf [professionally],” surmised Hughes’ daughter. “But after getting married and ending up having four kids, he needed to make a living for his family. He loved golf and very much loved his family. If he was disappointed, he didn’t let us know that.”
This weekend’s inaugural Solomon Hughes, Sr. Golf Classic at Emerald Greens Golf Course in Hastings June 27-28 is more than two days of competition. It promises to bring new awareness and honor to a man who only wanted to play golf without racial restrictions.
He was “a fine gentleman and a great dad,” concluded Shirley Hughes, a proud daughter of her father.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.