McLeod, Yanela G. The Miami Times and The Fight for Equality: Race, Sport, and the Black Press, 1948-1958. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019. Pp. 198. $90.00 hardcover. $85.00 eBook.
Reviewed by Jorge Iber
The 2018 movie Green Book was a surprise hit that generated an impressive financial return on its cost of roughly $23 million, as well as garnering mostly positive acclaim from reviewers. The film’s plot revolved around a tour of the South by pianist Don Shirley and an Italian American bouncer who served as his driver. The title of the film refers to The Negro Motorist Green-Book, which served as a guide to places in the South that would serve African American travelers.
The discussion of this movie and a traveler’s handbook from the Jim Crow era may seem like an odd way to begin a review of Yanela G. McLeod’s fine book, The Miami Times and The Fight for Racial Equality: Race, Sport, and the Black Press, 1948-1958; however, there is certainly a connection between the two. Both movie (albeit fictionalized to an extent) and guide share information about the many difficulties that African American travelers encountered in their attempts to enjoy leisure and travel in the post-World War II era. Since the state of Florida, and particularly the city of Miami (as McLeod notes early in her work), strove diligently to present themselves as meccas for vacationer fun (supposedly for all), it is fascinating to see how the tourist trade, leisure activities, and Jim Crow regulations intersected. McLeod notes that African Americans were certainly involved in the tourist industry throughout the Sunshine State; mostly as servers and cooks. When it came time for persons of this background to seek to engage in leisure time, however, their options were much more limited.
One activity that attracted many professional, middle, and upper class of African Americans was golf. McLeod’s work focuses on the intersecting efforts of a local paper, run by Bahamian immigrants, the NAACP, white liberals, and others in the African American and white communities in Dade County (now, Miami-Dade County) to help create equal access to a golf course in the city, Miami Springs. In this regard, McLeod’s research ties in nicely with other recent studies of golf and African American by Lane Demas (Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf and Robert J. Robertson (Fair Ways: How Six Black Golfers Won Civil Rights in Beaumont, Texas).
McLeod does an effective job of providing summary information on the history of Miami, the presence of segregation from the city’s genesis, the arrival of Bahamians, and the development of a professional and business class among the city’s African American populace. She articulates why and how this class became interested in golf; not only for the sport and enjoyment, but as a symbol of their ability to participate in a leisure activity that was popular among elite and middle-class whites. As McLeod notes, it was “indicative of the larger effort to tear down racism…” (86). Further, the author also provides an overview of the history of the participation of African Americans in golf (through courses owned by members of this group, as well as having their own version of a professional golfers’ association), and how the discriminatory patterns that were present in Miami were extant elsewhere, and how these segregationist practices had been challenged in earlier decades of the twentieth century.
What makes this book worthwhile is the meticulous research that author, effectively capturing how elements of the black (and the liberal white) community acted in an integrated, concerted effort to end discrimination at the Miami Springs course. McLeod notes the presence and activities of not just the Reeves family (which owned and operated the Times), but also other organizations (several of them interracial as well as interfaith) that cooperated to bring about greater social justice in Miami. Certainly, these progressive associations did not overcome all obstacles, but there was enough movement and momentum by the 1950s that made the Magic City “less contentious…than other Southern cities,” (64).
The final part of the work covers the lawsuit promulgated by local lawyers and the NAACP in April of 1949 in order to permit Dade County taxpayers, who just happened to be African American, with the opportunity to play on a public course on days other than Mondays. The case would twist, turn, and wind its way through the county circuit, the Florida Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court, back to the highest court in the Sunshine State, and ultimately a federal district court before the city’s attorneys gave up the legal ghost. Additionally, the city’s buses were also integrated at the same time. On April 17, 1958, 14 African American golfers played at the Miami Springs course, alongside 100+ white players without any issues, “proving peaceful interracial relations existed in Miami.”
In sum, McLeod is to be commended for her well written and researched book. She focuses not only on the game of golf in the African American community, but on how concerned and fair-minded citizens worked together to overcome discriminatory practices. While this moment from the late 1950s seemed to herald better race relations in southern Florida, it has certainly not worked out that way in subsequent decades. For example, the city has since witnessed major civil disturbances in 1968, 1980 and 1989. Articles from as recently as April of 2019 still list the city as one of the most segregated in the nation. McLeod’s work shows that people of good will can come together to make things better; utilizing a game to bridge divisions. Hopefully, there may be more such events in the city’s future.
Jorge Iber is a Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. His area of specialization is the study of Latino/a participation in the history of American sports. He is the author/co-author/editor of nine books. His most recent work, Mike Torrez: A Baseball Biography, is a biography of former Major Leaguer Mike Torrez (he of the pitch to Bucky “Bleeping” Dent in the 1978 playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees) published by McFarland.