BILL POWELL, 1916-2010

William James Powell (2nd right) was born 22 November 1916 in Greenville, Alabama, the grandson of slaves. He began caddying at a white-only golf course at the age of nine.

Bill played on courses all over England while serving in the Forces during the Second World War. But returned to Canton, Ohio, in 1946 to find that the nation’s golf courses, like much of America, remained segregated. And that the P.G.A. of America’s bylaws barred nonwhites from membership, a ban that remained in effect until 1961.

But Mr. Powell, then a security guard, was undaunted.

“It’s distasteful when you get turned down,” he told the New York Times in 2009. "You say, the hell with them. I’m not going to beg them. So I said I’ll just build a golf course.”

And so he did.
With financial help from two black physicians and a loan from a brother, Mr. Powell bought 78 acres on a dairy farm in East Canton.

Doing most of the labour by hand, Mr. Powell seeded pastures, tossed aside boulders and pulled up fence posts. In April 1948, what he called “this crazy dream” came true. He opened Clearview Golf Club with an initial nine holes and welcomed players of all races.

There were incidents of vandalism in the course’s early years — flag sticks were removed and ethnic slurs scrawled — but the course flourished, and Mr. Powell expanded it to 18 holes in 1978, having bought a total of 130 acres.

“I did not want other people who wanted to play the game of golf to have to suffer the indignities that I had,” he said.
“Stand firm. Never give up. Never give in. Believe in yourself, even when others don’t.”

He was thrilled when two white women drove from Atlanta just to play his course.

“They shook my hand and thanked me,” he said. “They said I have a piece of history here, and they wanted to be a part of it. Can you imagine?”

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