Thursday, April 18, 2024

Detroit’s Rackham Golf Course celebrates Black history.

Deciding what Americans should learn about Black history has become a topic of debate across the country, especially among school board members and presidential candidates. However, in Oakland County, there was no controversy surrounding the unveiling of a $5,000 outdoor teaching device last week. The device is a bronze plaque placed at the entrance to a golf course, commemorating the achievements of Ben Davis, a Michigander who broke the state’s color barrier in golf.

In 1966, Ben Davis became the first African American member of Michigan’s Professional Golfers’ Association, a membership that was previously restricted to white individuals. Two years later, Davis was appointed the head professional at Rackham Golf Course, a public course in Huntington Woods operated by the city of Detroit. This made Davis the first African American to hold such a position at a municipal golf course in the nation.

During the unveiling, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter referred to Davis as the “Jackie Robinson of golf.” The plaque was revealed by Hank Berry, the Huntington Woods Planning, Zoning, and Preservation Administrator, who removed the canvas covering from the plaque. The plaque not only honors Davis but also acknowledges the history of Rackham Golf Course. The course was established in 1923 when philanthropist Horace Rackham donated land for it. Rackham, who had acquired wealth through his early investment in the Ford Motor Co., gave part of the land to the Detroit Zoo while designating the majority of it to become a public golf course. What sets Rackham Golf Course apart from other courses opened during the 1920s is that it welcomed individuals of all races, making it one of the few integrated golf courses in the nation at the time.

The plaque also highlights that in 1936, Erellon Ben Davis was hired as an instructor at Rackham Golf Course, teaching African American patrons, including Motown artists and renowned boxer Joe Louis.

Shaun Thomas, a Detroit resident and the great nephew of Ben Davis, was present at the unveiling and received a proclamation signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Thomas shared fond memories of spending time with his great uncle and recognized him as a positive role model who faced the struggles of discrimination with resilience.

Karen Peek, the director of golf operations for Golf Detroit, also attended the event and reminisced about taking golf lessons from Davis as a child. Peek, who became the first Black member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s Michigan chapter, praised Davis for his patience and friendly demeanor, which made her family eagerly anticipate their golf lessons.

The meticulous wording on the plaque detailing the history of Ben Davis and Rackham Golf Course is not up for debate, according to Huntington Woods city officials. Volunteers and city staff collaborated to research and document the history. The application for a Michigan Historic Marker was submitted to the Michigan History Center, and after a lengthy wait, approval was finally granted.

Although Ben Davis passed away ten years ago at the age of 101, it took considerable time to gain state approval, decide on the location of the plaque, and raise the necessary funds for its engraving and installation. Finally, this year, all the pieces fell into place, and the plaque honoring Davis and Rackham Golf Course can now be seen by visitors.

Bill Laytner:


About Thaddeus Tran

Meet the incredible Thaddeus Tran, an esteemed author on our blog with a passion for history and heritage. Thaddeus delivers captivating posts that take readers on a journey through time. With his wealth of knowledge and impressive research skills, he offers valuable insights and fascinating stories that shed light on the past and inspire a deeper appreciation for our shared heritage. Follow him to discover the secrets and treasures of history!

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