Separate But Equal

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 24, 2005
The holmes trio-dr. hamilton m. holmes sr., oliver wendell holmes and alfred (tup) holmes
Charles T. Bell (left), Oliver Wendell Holmes (middle) and Alfred “Tup” Holmes (right)

BRISTOL, CT. The case was called Holmes vs. the city of Atlanta. The Holmes were one of the most prominence Black families in post-war Atlanta. Dr. Hamilton M. Holmes Sr. ran his practice out of an office on Auburn Ave. in the heart of the city.

His son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, was a well-respected minister. Alfred (Tup) Holmes was the outspoken sibling who served as union steward at Lockheed Aircraft in Marietta. Iin 1951 the Holmes trio joined Charles T. Bell to make a stand against segregation.

This foursome shared a passion for golf and, like most of Atlanta’s African-American elite, they all belonged to Black-owned and Black-run Lincoln CC, a 9-hole layout better known for the quality of its buffet than its course conditions.

The group attempted to play at a course on the other side of town. Although Bobby Jones GC was one of seven public venues within the city limits, it was off limits to blacks unless they were carrying someone else’s clubs.

Sensing resistance, Tup and Bell came up with a plan to help persuade the others. They would dispatch ahead one of their members, K. B. Hill, who passed for Caucasian on several deceptions, to infiltrate the whites-only course.

However, the racism with which the group was confronted on that mid-summer morning was no laughing matter. “The head pro told us straight out we couldn’t play, that they didn’t allow no niggers at Bobby Jones,” recalled Bell. Hill was quickly corralled and, along with the others, escorted off the grounds.

It took two years, but they eventually filed a lawsuit-Holmes vs. Atlanta-that sought to desegregate public golf courses and parks in the city. Dissatisfied with U.S. District Court Judge Boyd Sloan’s 1954 ruling in the case the litigants decided to appeal to a higher power.

John H. Calhoun, a businessman and president of the local chapter of the NAACP recommended the organization throw its clout behind the golfers. The NAACP responded by providing the chief counsel of its legal defense team, an up-and-coming lawyer named Thurgood Marshall, to present their case before an appeals court in New Orleans.

When that court upheld Judge Sloan’s ruling, the golfers were forced to take their fight to the nation’s ultimate battleground, the U.S. Supreme Court. This time they won. The Supreme Court accepted the case in the fall of 1955 and on November 7 ruled in favor of the Black golfers.

Not everyone was happy with this outcome, especially Georgia governor Marvin Griffin who had added to an already incendiary climate by declaring, “co-mingling of the races in Georgia state parks and recreation areas will not be tolerated.”

Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield urged the city to sell its courses to individuals, who could then declare them open to private membership only. Although Hartsfield’s effort failed, it fueled the growing anger of diehard Jim Crow preservationists.

However, Atlanta’s public courses were officially desegregated without incident. “It’s gratifying to know that I participated in something so meaningful,” said Bell, the only survivor of the original foursome.

Dr. Holmes died in September of 1965, Oliver nearly a year to the day later, and Tup succumbed to cancer in December of 1967. In 1983, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young renamed Adams Park GC, the Alfred E (Tup) Holmes Memorial GC.

Fittingly, it was maintained by the city for the enjoyment of all its citizenry, until 1986 when it was leased to the American Golf Management Company.

NOTE: The African-American Registry contributed to this story.