The Hiawatha Golf Course clubhouse at one time, decades ago, did not allow Solomon Hughes Sr. to enter because of his race. Now it’s officially named the Solomon Hughes, Sr. Clubhouse.
Solomon Hughes, Sr. (1908-1987) was born in Alabama and learned how to play golf as a youngster by caddying for White players at a local country club. As an adult, he played professionally during the 1920s and 1930s in tournaments sponsored by the United Golf Association (UGA), founded for Black golfers because its White counterpart, the Professional Golf Association (PGA), had a “Caucasians only” policy.
Hughes won his first tournament at age 25 and eventually moved himself and his family to Minneapolis.
“My dad [wanted] a place where his daughters can play in the park, walk down the street, get a good education,” said Solomon Hughes, Jr. during a June 27 morning ceremony to display the building’s new exterior and interior signage. The event was attended by family members, friends, local officials, and local media, including the MSR.
“So, he comes up with three locations to pick on,” Hughes Jr. continued: “Chicago, Illinois, Baltimore, Maryland, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.” A friend of his had already moved here. The senior Hughes chose Minneapolis and moved here in 1943.
Although his mother hated the cold weather, “My dad had career opportunities here,” continued the junior Hughes. “He ended up supporting the family by working at Burlington Northern Railroad.”
His father also pursued his golf career, playing in as many UGA events as possible. But locally, Hughes and other Black golfers had to endure de facto segregation at Twin Cities golf courses.
Hiawatha was one of two local courses where Blacks could play, but they couldn’t use the clubhouse. The South Minneapolis course hosted the UGA’s Central States Golf Tournament in 1938, however.
Hughes and fellow Black golfers fought against the clubhouse ban, which Hiawatha finally ended in 1952. It wasn’t until the 1960s that other courses did the same.
Hughes won many golf events over the course of his decades-long career. His last was in 1984, three years before his death. He is also credited with opening doors for later Black pros such as Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder, who both played on the PGA circuit.
He also tutored and taught many Black youth, mostly at Hiawatha. “It was his second home. If he wasn’t home, he was here on the golf course,” Hughes Jr. told the MSR. “It is a tribute to his tenacity and his dedication, and constantly working hard here at the club fighting against the discrimination.”
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Al Bangoura told the gathering that Hughes’ name on the Hiawatha clubhouse is important for many reasons. “We all know a lot of times without our history for Black people, it gets buried, and we lose [it] sometimes. This is a way of actually showing it.”
Bangoura later told the MSR, “The naming of this space [will enable] young Black children to come here and see the space and know his name, understand his legacy, read about his history and what that means.”
Minneapolis City Councilmember LaTrisha Vetaw, during her time on the Park Board, fought for the clubhouse renaming. “This was a unanimous vote,” she recalled. “I spent some time with [the Hughes family] to learn more. What a remarkable story. What a remarkable history your family has.
“I’m thankful that I’ve learned about his legacy,” continued the councilmember. “I also want to say we can’t stop… There’s so much more that we’re going to have to continue to do not only to preserve the history of your father but the history of Black people in the state of Minnesota, in the city of Minneapolis,” Vetaw said at the event.
The elder Hughes daughter, Shirley, told the MSR after the event that her father often equated the game of golf with life. “I remember one of the things my dad told me is that people who cheat are cheating themselves. That was when he was teaching me how to score.”
Theodore Worth Golf Course on the city’s North Side could also rename its clubhouse after another local legendary Black golfer, Eddie Mandeville, who died in 2020. He was an icon on the golf course for over 60 years, and like Hughes was initially denied clubhouse access because he was Black.
“Hopefully it will be coming down the pipeline in 2023,” said Park Board Vice-President Alicia D. Smith on possibly getting Mandeville’s name on the Worth clubhouse. “There’s a legacy, there’s a history, and it’s a connection to those golf courses. And we have to honor that.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.