As buildings burn and protests rage in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury verdict, you will hear depressing stories about an America that seems stuck in the Jim Crow past. You will hear that black Americans are many times more likely to go to jail – and, worse, to be shot dead by police – for example.
Obviously, the euphoria that followed the election of this country’s first black President is fading fast.
Racism seems as rampant as ever.
And then… And then we read about a 92-year-old black man receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom for breaking the color barrier in golf. It’s been 53 years since Charlie Sifford (photo above) became the first black golfer to receive his PGA Tour card but the memory of that achievement offers us encouragement today.
The color barrier had lingered in golf for 14 long years after Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough in baseball. In the country clubs, it hung on for decades after that. The color barrier wasn’t broken in the Masters until 1975, and Augusta National only recently opened its membership to non-whites and women.
But how times have changed! The most famous golfer in the world today is black. You now who I mean. I don’t even have to mention his name.
The Charlie Sifford story is not very dramatic. No burning buildings. No riots. It’s about polite snobbery and the kind of “gentleman’s agreement” spotlighted in the 1947 Gregory Peck movie… Remember?
The movie was about the way Jews were treated in America. But that’s in the long-forgotten past. Only cranks and crazies would contemplate discriminating against Jews today.
And who in their right mind would turn away a job applicant just for being Irish (as so many did in days gone by)?
I know, it’s taking longer for black Americans to take their place at the table. Too long. Much too long. But it’s happening.
You see more non-white faces on TV, and among political leaders and senior civil servants – even in top corporate positions.
More female faces, too.
Yes, female. And homosexual. It’s a broadly based fight, the fight for equal treatment for all. Prejudice of all kinds festers in the human heart.
But gradually, America is stumbling toward the light, lurching two steps forward and one step back.
And, in the dark aftermath of the Ferguson tragedy, the memory of Charlie Sifford’s achievement shines like a small, brave beacon of hope.