GREENSBORO, N.C. — Golf is a game designed to test a person patience, endurance, and their ability to read the obstacles in front of them.
The game’s tests stretch far outside the course for six Greensboro individuals who put themselves in harms ways to fight for their ability to play.
It was a chilly late afternoon at the Gillespie Golf Course on Dec. 7, 1955. The Greensboro 18-hole course was a taxpayer funding course that was a popular destination for players looking for green/smooth fairways and challenging greens.
That day, Dr. George Simkins, Phillip Cook, Elijah Herring, Samual Murray, Joseph Sturdivant and Leon Wolfe decided they wanted to enjoy the course. The six African-American men would regularly play at the African-American designated course nearby, knowing they would not be accepted at the course in 1955.
“That was the times,” explained James “Jimmy” Moore, who caddied for Simkins on several occasions. “You could not go there . . . because of the color of your skin.”
Moore was not with Simkins and his friends that Wednesday afternoon, but recalled the story he later was told by the doctor.
Just a few days before, Rosa Parks held her ground and refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in Alabama. Creating a large spark in the Civil Rights movements.
Fueled by that courage, the six men in Greensboro showed up to the Gillespie Golf Course to pay.
“You put yourselves in harms way, because you want to do the right thing. They went in, and payed their green fee,” Moore said. The men were met with instantly met with hostility.
The clerk behind the counter refused to let them sign the guest book and told them to leave immediately because of their skin color.
Since the course was taxpayer funded, the men ignored the clerk. They laid down their 75 cents to play and went to play the course.
“They played from number 1 through 6,” Moore remembered. He said things changed as they approached hole 6. “The sheriff met then on number 6 and then took them downtown and locked them up.”
Later that day Simkins and the five men were bonded out of jail. They were charged with trespassing, found guilty and sentence to time behind bars.
The men would later become known as the “Greensboro Six” and praised by people across the region for their bravery, but the arrest left them frustrated.
They took their fight to course to protest the charges against them, stating they were well within their right to play on a taxpayer funded course. They filed a series of appeals on the district and state level and lost.
Their story made it all them way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958, where the Greensboro Six would also lose in a vote 5-4 against.
The men’s actions brought change in the late 1950s, when Federal Court Judge Johnson Hayes declared that the men were within their rights to play at the course. The judge ordered the city course to be opened to all races.
Thought Moore was just a caddy and only 8 years old at the time, he saw the impact these men’s actions had. “It opened the eyes of a lot of people, and it made changes in the city of Greensboro.”
Little hope was turned to ash in a believed arson incident after the ruling. Two weeks before the course was to be de-segregated, a mysterious fire burned down the clubhouse.
To this day, it’s unknown who started it, but it lead to the course being condemned and closed.
In 1962, seven years to the day the Greensboro Six made their stand, the Gillespie Golf Course reopened. It was open to all races.
Simklins, for his actions, was honored with teeing off the ceremonial first hit.
By 2020, the Greensboro Six had all passed away.
The city and golf course honor their memory with a plaque placed outside the new clubhouse. It reads, in part, “Greensboro is a better play for what The Greensboro Six did. So is our country.”