In April, 1969 James Saint Clair Gibson reported on the opening of the Sportsman’s Club, a country club being built by African-American investors in the city’s northwestern suburbs. Gibson contributed columns to the Indianapolis Recorder from 1936 until his death in 1978, often writing under his pen name of “The Saint” and dispensing acerbic commentary about life in African-American Indianapolis. Gibson’s report on the Sportsman’s Club inventoried its promised offerings of swimming pools, tennis courts, and golf links, but Gibson could not pass up a comment on the club’s apparent exclusivity, observing that memberships cost “$$$$ (hundreds) per year, and according to what we hear—they are being gobbled up right and left by our succulent (?) middle-class.”
The Sportsman’s Club aspired to provide a cross-class, multiethnic social club. However, Gibson perhaps captured his readership’s wariness of exclusive country clubs, which were segregated along class lines and had historically been places where African Americans performed service labor. The caricature of White hyper-wealthy clubs may have made the notion of a predominately Black club seem especially archaic at a moment when many once-segregated citizen rights were being transformed. Perhaps the most unsettling implication was that the club illuminated the reaches of American life that remained utterly segregated. Country clubs would indeed be one of the last bastions of segregation long after other spaces and citizen rights were effectively integrated.
African Americans began to settle suburban homes along Grandview Drive not long after World War II, and by the early 1960’s it was a solidly middle-class, predominately African-American community. In 1968 former Ball State and Detroit Lions football player James U. Todd led a group of entrepreneurs who sought rezoning of a 60-acre parcel on Grandview Drive to construct a country club. Investors promised well-appointed facilities with a host of recreational activities alongside athletic coaching from luminaries including Gale Sayers, Leroy Kelly, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Rush, Travis Williams, and Dick Gordon.
In October, 1968 the city approved the construction of the country club “following a lengthy hassle with the Marion County Council which conceded only after the group of black men planning the venture agreed to stiff stipulations.” The Indianapolis Recorder reported that conditions for the Sportsman Club’s development “were imposed after residents of the fashionable Grandview area, claiming they feared such an establishment would disrupt their neighborhood with excess noise, littering and other `undesirable’ activities, appealed to the Council.”
In November, 1968 ground was broken for the club with NFL official Claude “Buddy” Young in attendance. The first African-American executive hired by a professional sporting league and a former football player himself, Young applauded the Sportsman Club’s plan to help professional players secure jobs in the off-season and after their playing careers ended. In September 1969 the club held an event at the site and reported on construction progress, and as the club prepared to open it offered membership sales in December, 1969 through early January, 1970. The Club opened on May 22, 1970.
Just a decade before the Sportsman Club opened, Franklin Frazier had launched his classic broadside on the Black bourgeoisie when he argued that social exclusivity among the African-American bourgeoisie was “an effort to achieve identification with upper-class whites by imitating as far as possible the behavior of white `society.’” In 1945 St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s landmark Black Metropolis painted a less somewhat critical picture of African-American elite politics, and Frazier’s rhetorical attack on postwar African-American elite has since been tempered by scholars like Steven Gregory.
Nevertheless, Frazier’s critique of African-American bourgeoisie resonated with at least some Sportsman’s Club observers. Indianapolis Recorder columnist Andrew Ramsey was possibly Indianapolis’ most persistent and eloquent postwar critic of racial segregation, and Ramsey preached against African-American class exclusivity in places like the neighborhoods along Grandview. Ramsey assessed the Sportsman’s Club in August, 1970 and argued that Indianapolis’ African-American elite had long been “content to do their own thing separately and to put as much distance between themselves and the black masses as possible. Swank homes with well stocked bars and prestigious cars and membership in clubs which gave sumptuous formal dances were the hall-marks of the Negroes who had arrived.” Ramsey acknowledged that the ambitious Sportsman’s Club venture “could serve as an object of pride to Negroes who can afford that sort of thing,” but he disparaged “how so many black Indianapolitan[s] can find so much money to invest in this monument to middleclassness and none to invest in the fight for freedom and democracy.” Ramsey suggested that with the club’s construction “the sepia middle class locally has shown that it can co-operate to sponsor a project which enhances its relative position in black Indianapolis,” lamenting that “most of the members of the Sportsmen’s Country Club have been very difficult to enroll in the NAACP.”
After hosting a consistent array of events, the club was nevertheless unable to be profitable, and it was placed in receivership December 17, 1970. The club found itself bankrupt and closed January 3, 1971. Optimistic that they could secure 1500 memberships at $350 each, the club had only recruited 280, according to the Indianapolis Recorder. By March 1971 the club was threatened with foreclosure. James Todd lamented that “Sportsman’s Club, Inc., the organization of black professional athletes that supplied the seed money for the project” was at risk to “lose more than $250,000.” Todd charged that the bank’s foreclosure was “a concerted effort to remove the ownership of the club from the black community.”
Among the most demoralizing dimensions of the failed venture was that it had been unable to secure an inter-racial membership. Todd was sober about the genuine cooperation the club had fostered across the color line, and Indianapolis’ social and country clubs were indeed exceptionally resistant to integration. Two miles east from the Sportsman’s Club sat the Meridian Hills Country Club, where African Americans had served as employees since it formed in 1923. In 1972 employee Bobby Jean Gladney filed a Civil Rights Commission suit against the club charging that she had been fired for wearing “an alleged Afro-hair style,” and like many other clubs Meridian Hills argued its membership choices were not subject to civil rights review. The “White Gentiles only” Riviera Club likewise argued in 1975 that it had a right to select membership via face-to-face interviews, waging an eight-year legal defense of their anti-Black and anti-Jewish membership restrictions Formed in 1908, the Highland Golf and Country Club sat two miles south of the Sportsman’s Club, moving to its location along Grandview Drive in 1919. However, the club did not accept Black members until an Indiana Civil Rights Commission complaint was filed in 1992.
In April, 1971 the former Sportsman’s Club members voted to rename it the Scenic View Country Club and lease the property from a court-appointed receiver (State Representative and former Crispus Attucks basketball coach Ray Crowe), provided they could secure 500 members. In May the new club found an ally in Andrew Ramsey, who argued that “in a recent renaissance of black pride, Negroes have sought to counter the exclusions from country clubs by dreaming of possessing their own.” In a moment of classic Hoosier provincialism, Ramsey suggested the Sportsman’s Club collapsed because “too few local citizens joined” and it had “a managerial staff composed largely of outsiders.” Apparently comforted that the club’s fate was being placed in the hands of local residents, Ramsey noted that “many of the organizers feel that a country club will give black Americans a sense of belonging to modern America . . . . If a country club will help the Negro psychologically, this writer is all for it.”
The newly dubbed Scenic View club was opened through 1972, but by January 1973 it again appeared to be financially unstable. In March, 1973 the struggling club again found a defender in Andrew Ramsey, who reported that membership believed that “keeping the club open is a psychological must for Indianapolis Blacks who have suffered many recent setbacks on their road to complete freedom. The Scenic-View Club becomes, then, a sort of symbol of how well sepia Indianapolis is doing in the battle for human dignity.” The club’s efforts to stay open were probably undermined in June when “an armada of more than 100 shotgun-armed deputies in full riot gear” raided the club under the pretense that they were acting on an illegal gambling complaint (the raid resulted in no charges against anybody at the party). Saint Clair Gibson complained about the Sheriff’s Department in his column, asking “Are they against Black folk having a first class club catering to first-class Blacks?” The club’s last events came in November, 1973, and on November 10, 1973 the club closed for good. Neighbors and former club members tried to convince the city to turn the property into a park, but the city declined, and in May 1976 the former country club was purchased by the Christ Church Apostolic congregation. In February, 1977 the Indianapolis Recorder reported that neighbors in the Grandview, Crooked Creek, and Delaware Trails Civic Associations “wanted assurances from the church that the area would not become urbanized. … The new facility is equipped with a nine-hole golf course.” The congregation was allowed to turn the former club into a church, but between 2003 and 2005 the golf course was covered with suburban homes. The country club buildings remain the home to the Christ Church congregation.
In 1971 Sportsman’s Club President James Todd may have launched the most challenging critique of the club’s demise when he attributed the club’s “lack of white support to the difficulty of whites `knowing how to carry themselves in a predominatly [sic] Black situation.’” The Sportsman’s Club’s aspirations for affiliations across the color line were laudatory, and the degree to which such social clubs have ever become effectively segregated along class and color lines alike is unclear. It seems unlikely, though, that Andrew Ramsey would be especially optimistic about the revolutionary potential of any collective that is fundamentally based on wealth or color exclusivity.
St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton
1945 Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. 1993 Edition. Harcourt Brace, New York.
1999 Black Corona: Race and the Politics of Place in an Urban Community. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
2014 A “Voice from the Gallery”: Andrew Ramsey and School Desegregation in Indianapolis. Ohio Valley History 14(3):26-48.
Jessica Holden Sherwood
2010 Wealth, Whiteness, and the Matrix of Privilege: The View from the Country Club. Lexington Books, Lanham, Maryland.
In January, 1928 the Indianapolis Recorder dryly proclaimed that “it is indeed gratifying to see how many of our group have taken up the ancient and honorable game of GOLF since the city turned the cow pasture at Douglass Park over to us for a golf course by the placing of six tin cans around said pasture.” In 1926, the African-American newspaper had spearheaded the course’s construction, arguing that “Indianapolis Negroes want to play golf.” By 1928, though, it lamented that the six-hole course at “Douglass park has plenty of hazards, bunkers and the like, but they are not artificial. They are just as God made the land, rough, uneven, uncut grass, trees in the fairways, even the `teeing ground’ is like a bunker.”
Much of the 20th century battleground for African-American citizen privileges and human rights was waged in public spaces like workplaces, schools, and the voting booth. Nevertheless, that activism reached into nearly every corner of everyday life, finding some of its most powerful activism at seemingly prosaic lunch counters, bowling alleys, and municipal parks. African America’s grassroots struggle for citizen rights in seemingly mundane leisure places like golf courses was a critical dimension of 20th-century African-American activism. Such activism remains preserved in traces of the contemporary landscape, but the significance of such spaces—and the persistence of many color line divisions in those very places–risks passing without notice today.
Indianapolis’ first public nine-hole course was built at Riverside Park in 1900, just as golf began to be played in the US; simultaneously, the Great Migration and color line segregation were transforming the world of 20th-century African-American golf. In 1901 Henry Alfred Fleming, an African-American caddy at the Indianapolis Country Club, was appointed as Riverside Park’s golfing instructor. Many African Americans like Fleming found work as caddies at the nation’s earliest country clubs and golf courses, quietly becoming skilled players themselves. John Shippen, an African American and indigenous Shinnecock Indian, was a caddie who played in six U.S. Opens alongside White golfers between 1896 and 1902, but golf clubs and tournaments soon excluded people of color. Fleming’s position as an African-American golf instructor at a public course would be nearly unimaginable by 1910, when golf became a segregated mass leisure. Read the rest of this entry
In June, 1941 the German military arrived in northern Finland as part of the Operation Barbarossa offensive against the Soviet Union. The Germans became co-belligerents with the Finns, jointly waging war on the Soviets between June, 1941 and September, 1944 in what is known in Finland as the Continuation War. At its height, 220,000 Germans were based and living in Finnish communities.
The Arktikum Museum and Arctic Science Centre’s exhibit “We Were Friends”: Finnish-German Encounters in Lapland, 1940-1944 revolves around the premise that in many ways the Finns and Germans experienced all the human relationships common between people anywhere: in various contexts, Finns and Germans were friendly colleagues, indifferent peers, or romantically involved. “We Were Friends” departs from conventional Nazi narratives dispensing familiar moral judgments and instead plumbs everyday life between Finns and Germans. That focus delivers a novel if potentially unsettling humanization of Finnish and German people living alongside each other amidst war. It is an enormously challenging ambition to render the Nazi soldiers in Finland as prosaic and even banal people since the Nazis’ broader legacy has dominated historical pictures of German foot soldiers. Inevitably, the exhibit also uneasily illuminates the historical implications of the Finns’ reception of the Germans.
“We Were Friends” casts Finns and Germans as utterly recognizable people negotiating difference and their circumstances as nearly any of us would. The exhibit aspires to humanize the relationships between Finns and Germans, not Nazis and the German military writ large, a mission that may be impossible, naïve, refreshing, overdue, or something anywhere on that continuum. The exhibit perhaps on some level aspires to salvage German soldiers’ humanity from narratives fixed on the Nazi war machine or caricatures of the German foot soldier as an ideological automaton. On a novel, fascinating, and potentially unsettling level “We Were Friends” avoids weaving any especially judgmental moral or ideological narrative of the war, Nazism, or wartime Finns, instead painting a picture of everyday life distinguished by its recognizable banality. Read the rest of this entry
This week cycling insiders are heralding a new line of bike apparel from fabled Italian cycling manufacturer Castelli. After decades of cycle clothing innovations, Castelli has partnered with recently retired pro rider David Millar to produce an “ultra high-end” clothing line for “discerning cyclists” seeking “sartorial elegance.” The brand hopes to appeal to a “new breed” of cyclists attracted to “the cutting edge of fashion,” and the first jersey in the line retails for £190; assessing the line’s prices, Bike Radar dryly concluded that “it’s a fair bet that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
Cycling producers are by no means alone in their branding appeal to consumers seeking exceptionally high-end sports garments and gear, and cultish brand appeal has complicated implications on how we view sport in general and cycling in particular. A massive industry has made cycling an increasingly lucrative industry, and it is attempting to remain profitable and accessible to the masses even as brands like the new Castelli line cultivate social and class exclusivity. Read the rest of this entry
Last week neighbors in London’s East End were dismayed that a planned women’s history museum had taken an unexpected turn. Rather than “retell the story of the East End through the eyes, voices, experiences and actions of the women that shaped the East End,” the renamed Jack the Ripper Museum will narrate the lives of late 19th-century women through the familiar but hackneyed legend of a murderer. The Jack the Ripper story has been told incessantly since the murder of five women in London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in the late 1880s. The murders are a fascinating tale of extraordinary evil heightened by the murderer’s ability to remain anonymous and escape an analysis of what delivered him to such unthinkable darkness. Nevertheless, the Ripper’s story seems an especially challenging starting point to narrate the agency of women in 19th-century London. The Museum awkwardly argues that it “discusses why so many women had little choice in their lives other than to turn to prostitution”; that only seems to confirm that they will tell another theatrical tale about the Ripper instead of reflectively study the scores of women who negotiated the late 19th-century East End. Read the rest of this entry
In July, 1937 Louise Terry was married in the garden at her parents’ Indianapolis home, and her mother Mary Ellen and father Curtis were likely proud of their daughter and garden alike. In the days leading up to the nuptials the Indianapolis Recorder rhapsodized about the Terrys’ garden: “A beautiful rock garden and lily pond bordered with flowers of variegated hues against a background of Sabin Junipers, Oriental Golden Arbor-Vitae, Colorado Blue Spruce, Virginia Glanca, Blue Junipers, Japanese Cedars, and stately Poplars will create a celestial atmosphere … at the Terry residence, 1101 Stadium Drive.”
The Terrys’ garden lay in the heart of the city’s near-Westside, part of an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood that was routinely caricatured as a “blighted” or “slum” landscape. In the summer of 1937 that Louise Terry was wed, construction was nearing completion on the city’s first major urban renewal project, Lockefield Garden, just blocks from the Terry home (the segregated African American community accepted its first tenants in February 1938). There was indeed genuine impoverishment and material hardship in much of the near-Westside, yet the African-American city was dotted with ornamental gardens like the Terrys’ home. The archaeological scholarship on African-American landscapes includes fascinating analyses of plantation spaces and food gardens, but there is far less scholarship on the scores of ornamental African-American gardens in 20th-century cities and suburbs. Compounding the dilemma in cities like Indianapolis is the reality that many of these gardens have been erased. Nevertheless, ignoring them allows racist stereotypes of longstanding urban ruin to pass unchallenged, and it risks ignoring that many similar gardens and gardeners remain scattered across the contemporary city. Read the rest of this entry
In February American tourists Lindsey Kate Adams and Leslie Jan Adams were among the crowds at Cambodia’s Angkor, the 9th-15th century Khmer city and temple complex that UNESCO hails as the most famous archaeological site in southeast Asia. The World Heritage Site sprawls over about 400 square kilometers, making it among the world’s largest archaeological sites and one of the most visited historical sites in the world. The Adams sisters were among the thousands of visitors trooping through Angkor in February, with scores of them providing pictures of their journey and the astounding complex. When the Arizona sisters reached the Preah Khan temple, they likewise documented their visit, yet like a modest but growing wave of contemporary tourists they departed from the conventional monument pose: the women dropped their pants for a shot of their butts in the ancient temple, only to be nabbed by the authorities. These increasingly common nude or partially disrobed pictures at historic sites tell us something about the aesthetic power of heritage even as they reveal its irrelevance to many of the Western tourists who are actually visiting historic places.
The Arizona travelers are not alone in their ambition to commemorate their historic site tourism with nude pictures. In January three French tourists were deported after being caught in Angkor’s Banteay Kdei temple stripping for pictures of their Cambodian trek. Five days before pictures appeared on Facebook depicting topless women at Angkor as well as Beijing’s Forbidden Palace. In May a group of ten tourists posed naked in Malaysia on Mount Kinabalu, a World Heritage site distinguished by its botanical diversity (5000-6000 plant species can be found on the mountain). Israeli traveler Amichay Rab’s My Naked Trip blog documents his tour of South America, where he stripped at a series of sites including Machu Picchu, Cuzco, and Monte Verde. The facebook page and blog Naked at Monuments document sun-starved butts at sites including the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, and Athens. Read the rest of this entry
Boone Hall Plantation bills itself as “America’s most photographed plantation,” and the Mount Pleasant, South Carolina plantation’s moss-draped oak approach and grounds are indeed magnificent. The most dramatic aesthetic feature of the plantation may be the nearly mile-long “Avenue of Oaks” approach, which is draped in southern oaks planted in 1743. Photographed by a legion of tourists whose images crowd the likes of Pinterest, Instagram, and Trip Advisor, the space has also appeared in films including North and South and The Notebook.
In April the visitors photographing the Boone Hall landscape included Dylann Roof, who later murdered nine African Americans in a Charleston church on June 17th. In March and April Roof visited a series of South Carolina historic sites such as Boone Hall and included the images on a website accompanying a racist manifesto. We may find it impossible to fathom the mind of a racist killer and determine how he went from the mimicry of xenophobic talking points to mass murder, but his historic site visits illuminate the somewhat “placeless” historic landscape of the racist imagination. Dylann Roof’s imagination of these historic spaces is impossible to conclusively interpret, and his online manifesto and pictures did not deny the historical narratives of African-American heritage sites as much as he simply evaded them. It appears that Roof ignored the complex heritage of all these places even as he felt strangely compelled to visit them. Read the rest of this entry
Few artifacts associated with dark historical moments are more perversely fascinating than a pair of panties for sale in an Ohio antiques shop. The lace underwear embossed with the monogram “EB” were reputedly recovered in 1945 from Berchtesgaden, where they were said to grace Eva Braun. The provenience for the $7500 knickers is not clearly established, but the interest in the skivvies of Hitler’s mistress is a telling reflection of our deep-seated curiosity in the human dimensions of evil. The fascination with such a prosaic thing illuminates our desire to comprehend (if not explain) the most evil people by focusing on their banal humanity.
Few collectibles provoke more anxiety than Nazi artifacts, whose exchange is strictly regulated throughout most of the world. Many of the codes regulating Nazi memorabilia attempt to keep them from falling into the hands of contemporary neo-Nazis, but many observers simply see the profiteering on Nazi symbols as ghoulish if not immoral. Harry Grenville, whose parents died at Auschwitz, called a 2015 auction of wartime memorabilia “hugely offensive,” lamenting that “this auction house is set to make a tidy sum of money from the sale of items that are hugely offensive to a lot of people. It raises again the question about freedom of speech – you can’t force people to stop selling Holocaust memorabilia and making money from it but you can deplore it.” Grenville is not alone in his uneasiness that Nazi material things have become “collectibles” traded like any other other good. Nevertheless, this aversion to the trade in Nazi collectibles stands somewhat at odds with the pervasive presence of Nazis in popular culture, where Nazism and Hitler are nearly universally recognized stand-ins for evil. Read the rest of this entry
In February lifelong Star Wars and Liverpool Football Club fan Gordon Deacon died of cancer, and the 58-year-old’s funeral commemorated his passions. The Cardiff father of four was escorted to St. Margaret’s Church by a phalanx of stormtroopers who then oversaw his pallbearers, who were themselves clad in Liverpool jerseys. Deacon’s funeral was distinctive, but he is by no means alone embracing his fandom for his final earthly ritual. For instance, the widow of Pittsburgh Steelers fan James Henry Smith requested that he be placed in his favorite reclining chair as if “he just fell asleep watching the game,” covered by his beloved Steelers blanket and facing a television showing a Steelers game (with the television remote in his hand). When Doctor Who fan Seb Neale died his family and friends arranged a service at which Neale’s coffin was a TARDIS with a blue flashing light; the service program was a picture of Neale cosplaying as 10th Doctor David Tennant; music from the show was played; and instead of scriptural verses “the funeral consisted of quotes from classic Who scripts, including William Hartnell’s famous speech from `The Dalek Invasion Of Earth’: ‘One day, I will come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.’” Read the rest of this entry