Civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery yesterday defended the compromise that will allow the PGA Championship to be held without protest next week against charges that it was a "sellout." Lowery, responding to remarks by Washington-based golfer Lee Elder, said he has requested meetings with the major governing bodies in golf to ensure that further progress is made in integrating the sport.
After weeks of controversy and threatened picket lines, the formerly all-white Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, has accepted a black businessman as an honorary member. At least one more black man will be considered for membership through the regular process. In exchange Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other civil rights leaders canceled plans to protest at the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Aug. 9-12.
"I've given my life to civil rights and I think I have an idea of a good agreement," Lowery said. "The charge of a sellout is totally unfair. It does a disservice to people who did a lot of work for a very important breakthrough."
However, the issue is not yet resolved. While phone lines at the PGA of America quieted, Nabisco said it would not reconsider its decision to cancel a corporate hospitality tent because sentiments are so divided as to whether the solution was far-reaching enough.
Six prominent companies have pulled television advertising from the telecasts on ABC and ESPN. The controversy began in June when Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson remarked that the club would not be pressured into accepting blacks and that "we don't discriminate in every other area except blacks."
IBM has already chanelled its dollars into other ABC programming and will not reinstate its ads on the PGA, spokeswoman Gina Chew Holman said.
Lowery said the agreement was not meant to be far-reaching, but "an excellent beginning." He added that the settlement includes a pledge that Shoal Creek will open itself to business interaction with the black community "from concessions to black business and technical services."
The honorary member, insurance executive Louis Willie, will play his first round as a member of Shoal Creek today, according to Lowery.
The PGA of America, the U.S. Golf Association, and the PGA Tour all have said they will discuss whether membership practices by potential host clubs should be adopted as criteria when selecting sites for tournaments. The Charlotte Observer has reported that 17 host clubs of PGA events do not have black members.