A hard-earned honor

From an editorial in Wednesday’s (Raleigh) News & Observer:

Charlie Sifford didn’t need a trademark like his ever-present cigar to make himself known in the world of professional golf. This native son of Charlotte was for a time seemingly the only African-American playing in the top professional ranks, and the hazards he faced went beyond sand bunkers and water.

It was not uncommon for Sifford, who helped desegregate the PGA tour, to hear racial slurs more than just whispered on the all-white country club courses where he competed against the best players of the day, men named Palmer, Player and Nicklaus. By the time Sifford, who had played in a sort of underground pro tour for black golfers, got to the big time, his skills were not what they once were.

But this week, the 92-year-old Sifford got a well-deserved trophy of sorts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The president of the United States called him a trail-blazer, and that is putting it mildly. Sifford endured vicious prejudice, and he did so with dignity and amazing restraint. It was a class the people who were taunting him hardly deserved, but through it all, Charlie Sifford kept his cool and played his golf.

Charlie Sifford’s world was one in which he couldn’t stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as the other professionals, and in most of the clubs where tournaments were played, exclusion of blacks was a far-too-accepted custom. It was a triumphant irony of sorts that Sifford would be presented his medal by President Barack Obama, who battled racial prejudice himself.