As state NAACP president Kelly Alexander summarizes in a letter to national director Thurgood Marshall, "on December 12 and 13, 1951, 16 Negro golfers applied for admission to play golf on the Bonnie Brae Gold Course, which is owned and operated by the City of Charlotte, through its Parks and Recreation Commission." Admission was denied to all sixteen.
Plaintiffs in petition to integrate Bonnie Brae Golf Course, Charlotte, 1954.
“Petition of Charles W. Leeper, et. al. to City of Charlotte et. al.,”
The above petition, which was 7 pages in total, was presented to the city on December 20. It was filed with the Charlotte Park and Recreation Committee in 1951 as a prerequisite action before filing suit. The Parks Commission filed a suit in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County on January 7, 1952, claiming that admission of the African American golfers would violate deed restrictions, thereby reverting the property to the donors.
The land for the course had a restriction upon usage as specified by the deed and conditions for the land's donation, stating the title would revert back to the original owner if the property was allowed to be used by African-Americans.
In return, the golfers filed a suit against the city, Parks Commission, and golf course on April 4, "asking for relief by declaratory judgment and injunction against the racial discrimination claimed to be practiced as respects the course."
At the time of Alexander's letter in June 1954, the golfers' suit had survived a motion to dismiss in Superior Court and was awaiting new legal counsel from the NAACP to advance the case. The suit eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court in March 1956 where the writ of centiorari, or appeal for a higher court to review for legal errors, was denied. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruling that the property would revert back to the original donor was upheld.
The situation was resolved when the city Park Commission purchased the reverter from the original grantor, Mrs. Osmond Barringer (Barringer and Abbott Realty Company) and integrated the course in January 1957. To read the summary of the case law, click here.
James Otis was the first black golfer to play at the course on January 10, 1957.
This was Charlotte’s first municipal golf course, opening in the 1930s. Later, I-77 devoured the back nine, and the front nine deteriorated over time. Today, following tons of renovations in 2010, the former Bonnie Brae Golf Course is now called the Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park. It's consistently rated as one of the best public courses in Charlotte. Dr. Charles Sifford, who was originally from Charlotte and as a child, fished golf balls out of Irwin Creek on the course but could not play the course due to segregation, was the first African American professional golfer to play at the U.S. Open in 1959 and to join the PGA Tour in 1961.
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Information taken from:
UNCC Special Collections on Instagram / @unccspeccoll
https://charlottesports.omeka.net/, "Bonnie Brae Golf Course"
cmstory.org, The Charlotte Mecklenburg Story, "1957 - Black Golfer at Bonnie Brae
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass