Fifty years ago today, on June 29, 1963, the city of Birmingham, Alabama re-opened its municipal golf courses, making them available for the first time to both white and black citizens.
In October 1961, a federal district court had ordered the integration of Birmingham’s public recreation facilities, holding that their segregation along racial lines was unconstitutional. This plan met with resistance from the city’s commissioner of public safety, Bull Connor, who is best known to history for the use of police dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators. Connor announced that he intended to close some 67 city parks, 38 playgrounds, 6 swimming pools, and 4 golf courses, and even the city’s football stadium and, if necessary, to sell them all to private citizens rather than accept the court’s integration order.
Connor justified his approach as follows:
The great majority of the people of Birmingham do not want integration. It will cause nothing but chaos and bad relations between the two races.
In the case of the city’s golf courses, Connor ordered the facilities closed in January 1962 and even had the police fill the holes with concrete.
By the spring of 1963, however, Birmingham had adopted a new form of city government, and Albert Boutwell, a more moderate segregationist, had defeated Connor in the race for mayor. Boutwell was more amenable to pressure from civil rights protesters, as well as the national and international attention they attracted. Moreover, white golfers who could not afford to join private clubs were reported to be increasingly impatient with the standoff.
As a result, Birmingham’s golf courses were re-opened on June 29, 1963 as fully integrated public facilities.