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More than Sports

how Hubert H. Humphrey and the United Auto Workers Union helped to achieve the Desegregation of Bowling in America 1946-1950

In the year in which Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, it is hard to believe that, less than 60 years ago, women and black people were not allowed to take part in professional bowling in the United States. Malina Iida and John Walter detail the long struggle of civil rights organisations, with the help of future Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and The United Auto Workers Union, to overcome the intransigent bigotry of the American Bowling Congress and end racial and sexual discrimination in the sport.

Posted 20-Feb-2014

by Malina Iida, Graduate of University of Washington, 2005 BA. At present in Law School at the University of Hawai’i and John C. Walter Professor Emeritus, University of Washington

In this article

Segregated bowling
Humphrey’s early experiences in the South
Labor Unions enter the fray
Starting the campaign in Minneapolis
Action in Detroit
American democracy on trial
Championing Civil Rights at Democratic National Convention
Legal action against the ABC
Ending discrimination in bowling

The election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States brings to the fore of American national politics the role of enlightened leadership in championing equality and unifying shared political and social goals in the democratic process.  This article explores the desegregation of bowling and the role of Hubert H. Humphrey, mayor, senator, vice president and presidential candidate in 1968 in helping the United Auto Workers Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO) bring together black and white common goals to support the union movement.  Bowling, a professional sport and, after WWII, a national family pastime, came to represent a significant challenge to segregation and a unifying force for labor politics.  Hubert Humphrey, white civil rights icon from the 1940s when he was mayor of Minneapolis to his death in 1978, championed progressive politics that culminated in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practice Act in 1978, in 194, and played a major role in the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act as a U.S. Senator.

Segregated bowling

Bowling, though well established in the United States prior to 1896, became in that year an organized sport with the formation of the American Bowling Congress (ABC) which controlled bowling in all of the northern states, but like a number of sports in the Progressive Era, the ABC adopted a “white male sex” clause in 1916, meaning only white males could play in its tournaments.[1]

The sport enjoyed a boom on military bases and in the civilian population during and after World War II.[2]  Not even ranked among the top ten American sports in 1934, by the mid-1940s it was the country’s most popular mass participation sport,[3] boasting 75,000 alleys, 16-20 million bowlers, and a total investment in alley equipment estimated at $221 million.[4]

In 1946 Father Charles Carow, a member of the ABC’s Executive Board and of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) of New York’s executive committee, and professor at Cathedral College in Brooklyn, New York, petitioned the ABC’s Board, on behalf of the CYO, to remove its “white male sex” clause.[5]  Though unsuccessful, his efforts caught the attention of Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers-Congress of Industrial Organizations International (UAW-CIO) and co-director of the union’s Fair Practices and Anti-Discrimination department.  Reuther decided that people who worked together in amity should be able to bowl together.  To continue the practice of voluntary segregation after a day’s work certainly was not in the best in the interest of union brotherhood and in the effort to increase union membership.  Already an astute union politician and a genuine progressive, Reuther soon instructed William H. Oliver, his Fair Practices committee co-director and a Black union organizer, to form a national committee, based in part on Father Carow’s protest to pressure the ABC to desegregate.[6]  Even before a plan of action emerged, it became clear that a person of more than ordinary prominence would be needed to head the national committee, a person of singular charm and enormously persuasive political skills enough to bring other luminaries into the struggle against the ABC.  The search committee quickly decided unanimously on Hubert H. Humphrey, the young mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Humphrey’s early experiences in the South

How did Hubert Horatio Humphrey, born in a small town in South Dakota, become so coveted for leadership?  In his autobiography he recalls that his father, a pharmacists and progressive Democrat, early instilled in him qualities of fairness and tolerance.  When he finished college at the University of Minnesota and found himself at Louisiana State University working on a master’s degree in political science in 1939, he was dismayed by Southern raced relations.

When I discovered the WHITE and COLORED signs for drinking fountains and toilets, I found them both ridiculous and offensive … No one, I thought, could view black life in Louisiana without shock and outrage.  Yet its importance to me was not only what I saw there and what my reaction was to southern segregation.  It also opened my eyes to the prejudice of the North.[7]

His experiences in the South informed his entire political career.  Back in Minneapolis during WWII, he ran for mayor in 1943 and lost, but won in 1945 on a platform against racketeering and crime, and for civil rights.  In 1946, he established a Council on Human Relations which, according to Timothy N. Thurber in his book The Politics of Equality, “provided a much needed boost to the struggle for equal employment opportunity” in Minneapolis.[8]  Jews, Blacks and other minorities greeted this development with more than mild interest.  Following this success, he instituted a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) in January 1947.  This too was in the interest of labor unions, though some members were hostile to the FEPC because it would benefit African Americans and Jews.[9]  Yet as Thurber notes, “pressure from several powerful labor leaders provided the extra leverage that FEPC proponents needed.”[10]

Humphrey’s progressive initiatives illustrated his commitment to labor and civil rights, marking him as an ideal candidate for the newly formed National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling (NCFPB or the National Committee), the pressure group established by the UAW-CIO, to rid the ABC of its discriminatory “white male sex” clause.  At the NCFPB’s founding meeting, held in Chicago on April 1, 1947, Humphrey’s name topped the list of prospective national sponsors.[11]  To persuade the mayor to head the National Committee, the UAW-CIO sent William Oliver and another union member, Joseph V. Tuma, to Minneapolis for a meeting with Humphrey, after which the mayor agreed to serve as chairman.[12]  In the union’s circles, obtaining Humphrey’s leadership was an exciting coup, for already he demonstrated a predisposition to the problems of labor, and had shown a unique ability to solve complex political problems.  Writing to Dr. Homer S. Jack, director of the Council against Racial and Religious Discrimination of Chicago, Walter Oliver described the mayor’s agreement to chair the NCFPB as a “tremendous success.”[13]

Claiming Mayor Humphrey as the national chair allowed Oliver to invite other notable persons to serve on national and local committees.  An invitation to Sinclair Lewis, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, exemplifies letters sent to outstanding persons to join the NCFPB, all invoking the prestige of Mayor Humphrey.  It informed the recipient of the ABC’s discriminatory clause and added, “Hubert H. Humphrey, Mayor of Minneapolis has recently consented to serve as chairman.  Mr. Humphrey has asked us to write you inviting you to serve on the National Committee along with other distinguished Americans.”[14]  Similar letters were sent to such luminaries as New York Senator James Mead, California Governor Earl Warren, and American Veterans Committee chairman Chat Paterson, and were usually successful.  Senator Mead, at that time Chairman of the Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, responded, “I shall be glad to accept membership on the National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling and I thank you for the invitation.”[15]  As time went on and more prestigious names were added to the list, the invitations became more persuasive.

Labor Unions enter the fray

By 1947 labor unions were part of a rising movement for fair employment as well as a burgeoning political force in great part propelled by the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (1935), and the National Fair Labor Standards Act (1935), which gave labor unions, the right to collective bargaining, free from reprisals by corporations, the establishment fair work rules including a forty hour work week, and time and a half pay for work over forty hours per week.  These progressive acts had not been achieved without major strikes, many of which resulted in violence in which police in cities like Chicago saw policeman shooting at workers protesting low wages and oppressive working conditions.  Even the U.S. Supreme Court sided with corporate management, ruling in 1935 against workers’ rights to organize and bargain with corporations for better working conditions.

Labor unions’ status after 1938 rose higher and higher with each passing year; particularly because the Fair Labor Standards Act recommended a minimum wage of not less than twenty five cents an hour and a target of forty cents an hour for 1945.  Such developments placed labor unions by 1945 in the spotlight of progressive social and economic change, while signifying strong political possibilities.  Both Walter Reuther and Hubert Humphrey understood this, as illustrated in a letter to Olga Madar, at that time Director of Recreation for the UAW-CIO from Humphrey.  In it he petitioned her to become a member of the National Committee by drawing attention to the union’s participation in bowling, and establishing a responsibility of organizations that touted employment equality to also fight racial segregation:

Bowling is of increasing importance as a form of organized recreation sponsored by labor, business, civic and church groups.  It is the present policy of the American Bowling Congress to exclude persons who are not of the Caucasian race from national tournaments.  This frequently has the effect of excluding people of Chinese, Japanese, Negro, and Filipino ancestry from participating in local bowling leagues.  This exclusion presents a problem which must be solved by forthright cooperative action on the part of all concerned.  We must bring our practices in the field of recreation into harmony with the principles of equality of opportunity to which we all subscribe.[16]

Starting the campaign in Minneapolis

In his first organizational meeting as chairman, held in Minneapolis in September 1947, Humphrey explained to the local committee why he had accepted leadership of the NCFPB.  “The time has come when people should be recruited on the basis of skill and not looks.  I believe that we can not [sic] place this in the hands of those who destroy our liberties and democracy - that is what ABC is doing.”  The mayor then charged his Council on Human Relations to take charge of NCFPB’s activities in Minneapolis.[17]  Apart from his usual optimism, Humphrey offered good reasons for the NCFPB’s future work and a clear method for achieving its goals.

William Oliver, already working hard at UAW-CIO headquarters in Detroit to materially implicate Humphrey and the NCFPB’s program for bowling desegregation, had every reason to be elated with the outcome of the Minneapolis meeting.  Buoyed up by Humphrey’s infectious enthusiasm and expectations of success, he wrote to Wilfred Leland, Executive Secretary of the Mayor’s Council on Human Relations, expressing his gratitude:  “I want to thank you for your splendid cooperation and I am sure that with the able guidance of you and the Mayor’s Council we can certainly have a live-wire committee going very shortly.”[18]

Greatly uplifted himself by the success of the Minneapolis meeting, the mayor again sent letters to a number of very important persons across the country, soliciting support for the abolition of segregation in bowling.  He stressed the theme of democracy in sports, reminding recipients that the American Bowling Congress did not only exclude Blacks, but Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiians, and other non-Caucasians.  “This policy,” he said, “in effect denies competition play in America’s most popular mass participation sport to thousands of citizens.  We believe that such a policy violates the fundamental principles of fair play and good sportsmanship.”  Humphrey then extended an invitation to a meeting:  “I know you are an extremely busy person, but I feel that one of the most important areas for bettering our human relations is in the field of sports.  If people can play together, if people can have fun together, certainly we can learn to work together more effectively.”[19]

When any group withdrew from the ABC because of NCFPB pressure, he promptly congratulated them.  In October he wrote to the Rev. H. Otherman Smith, of the Church of the Redeemer in Yonkers, New York.

Dear Sir:

This is to extend the deep appreciation of the National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling for your out-spoken support of the action of the American Legion Post in withdrawing its bowling teams from the American Bowling Congress.

Action such as yours aid immeasurably in the long struggle to bring democracy and fair play into the American Bowling Congress.[20]

Action in Detroit

Stricken with a bronchial infection later that month, the mayor had to be consigned to a hospital bed, but continued his involvement with the NCFPB by assigning his assistant, William C. Sims, to act in his stead, and liaise with Walter Oliver in Detroit.  Six days after falling ill he was back at work, with “Greetings:” and reporting to all committee members that in the last few months, “We have resolved many problems and we are gaining tremendous support in the communities throughout the country on behalf of our bowling project.”  Informing his correspondents that he was sending them minutes of meetings held around the country, he expressed confidence that there were many communities throughout the nation ready to support the National Committee.  The mayor also sent out a resolution, asking members of the National Committee to sign in protest of the membership eligibility clause,” i.e. the “white male sex” clause of the ABC, which the NCFPB had “designed as a target in this campaign.”  This resolution would then be forwarded to the ABC in protest.[21]

To remove the bigoted stranglehold of the ABC on bowling, the NCFB established with varying degrees of success competing tournaments in various cities where it held sway.  One held in November in Detroit, Michigan was undoubtedly successful but the ABC came right back and announced one of their tournaments would be conducted in the same city the following year.  In this, however, Mayor Humphrey and the members of the NCFPB perceived an opportunity to damage the bowling organization, as Michigan had given permission to the ABC to have its tournament on state fairgrounds.  Humphrey and Betty Hicks, a former Ladies Professional Golf Association champion and the vice chairman of the NCFPB, issued an open letter to Michigan Governor Kim Sigler in December, protesting the use of public facilities for a discriminatory, segregated organization.[22]  Governor Sigler was unmoved, but Humphrey and Hicks’s letter caused Arthur S. Gertz, writing in the Minneapolis Star, to accuse the mayor of playing politics for the black vote.  In response, Humphrey wrote to Charles Johnson, editor of the newspaper’s “People’s Column,” calling the charge “patently ridiculous” and noting that “people of Negro ancestry represent less than 1% of the people of the State of Minnesota.  My position is based upon the conviction that non-discrimination is essential if we are to make democracy work.”[23]

Gertz’s accusation had no negative effect on the mayor, for by early 1948, there was talk that Humphrey would be a candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Already very active on the platform committee of the Democratic Party, Humphrey was the leading light of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a liberal and progressive group within the Democratic Party.  For a January 1948 meeting of the National Committee in New York, the mayor sent invitations to various celebrities in the area, including Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey.  While Rickey curiously chose to decline the offer, other organization leaders took serious notice of Humphrey’s committee.[24]  The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, apparently overlooked, wrote four days before the meeting and invited themselves.[25]  Successful in securing a number of influential persons for the event, the mayor himself could not attend due to his increasingly heavy political schedule.[26]

In the northern United States by this time, a number of state commissions against discrimination existed, and Humphrey invited all their directors to attend a spring meeting in Minneapolis.  For this same meeting, the mayor invited Archbishop John Gregory Murray of the Archdiocese of St. Paul.  The Archbishop declined and informed the mayor that he had, for over forty years, kept a policy of not speaking out or comment on any matter “that is not distinctly religious or related to the administration of our Church. …”[27]  The mayor seemed dismayed by this response, replying:

I understand perfectly the position you have taken and I hope you understand that my request was made in ignorance of your attitude toward these matters.  In our zealousness to realize the things we believe in we often seek the support of those who must give all of their time to do a much more important work.[28]

In his continuing effort to build up support for the NCFPB, the mayor, savvy as usual, invited sportswriters to become members.  Humphrey’s determination to include such individuals in the affairs of the NCFPB soon earned dividends.  On February 12, 1948, David Egan, sports columnist of the Boston Daily Record, condemned the ABC for its discriminatory policies.  Twelve days later the mayor wrote to Egan, expressing his complete satisfaction with his column and adding, “It was most stimulating and unique in its approach to the very vicious practice of national sport organizations which discriminate against Native Americans.”  Never missing an opportunity to expand his committee, Humphrey immediately invited Egan to join the NCFPB.[29]

American democracy on trial

1948 would prove a very busy year for the mayor, but even under a heavy political campaigning schedule, he did not shirk his duties as chairman.  Informed that the Bowling Proprietors Association of Greater Detroit had ordered alley owners to refuse a Hawaiian bowling team’s match game requests, the mayor and the UAW-CIO issued a press release declaring an NCFPB tournament deadline extension to accommodate the Hawaiian team.[30]  Humphrey also wrote to Mike Masaoka of the Japanese American Citizens League, “If ABC refuses to permit them to enter their tournament, we would be most happy to have these Hawaiian bowlers enter our National Tournament which is scheduled to commence in Detroit April 3.”[31]

By early March 1948, all parties working with the NCFPB were hopeful that a scheduled mid-month meeting with the ABC would result in the abandonment of its segregationist policies.  Everyone on the committee hoped that Chairman Humphrey would be the spokesperson.  Betty Hicks, his vice chairman, wrote, “It is imperative that the material be presented in the most convincing manner possible; therefore, we are asking you to serve on the committee to present the brief,”[32] but when a teachers’ strike prevented his attendance, Humphrey sent his secretary, George Demetriou,[33] with a strongly worded letter to the ABC’s Minneapolis delegation, exhorting them to vote for their organization’s desegregation:

American democracy is on trial throughout the world.  One large blot on our record of many superb achievements is the continued practice of discrimination on account of race, creed or color.  As good Americans we are trying to eliminate from all phases of our life this tragic failure of the democratic process.  You, too, have an opportunity to help.

American sports which have always been distinguished for fair play are making great advances in eliminating racial discrimination.  ABC faces a great opportunity and a great challenge.  I am confident that you as a delegate from the Twin Cities will lead the way in pointing up the moral issue involved in permitting only Caucasians to bowl in ABC tournaments.  I respectfully urge you to vote for the abolition of this Caucasian rule.[34]

Despite the compelling arguments of the brief presented to the ABC, it decided to retain its “white male sex” clause.  It was a curious position to take, for in the U.S. at this time a number of developments indicated that the organization such as the ABC would soon be forced by law to relinquish its segregationist posture.  The previous year, for example, “To Secure These Rights,” the report of the President’s Commission on Civil Rights, recommended banning segregation in the armed forces and in interstate transportation.  In sports, Jackie Robinson had already spent a year with the Dodgers, with opposition to his presence showing signs of decline while other baseball clubs contemplated adding blacks to their teams.  Professional football had integrated in 1946.[35]  Already Joe Louis had ended discrimination against Black boxers in the heavyweight division before WWII, and by defeating a representative of a racist country, Germany, had brought attention back in the U.S. to the evils of religious and racial bigotry.  By 1948, all portents suggested an end to discrimination in sports before long.  It seemed peculiarly obtuse for the ABC to behave in this manner, and it must have seemed astonishing to Hubert Humphrey, the NCFPB and the UAW-CIO.

The refusal by the ABC to eliminate the “white male sex” clause in April energized the NCFPB.  William Oliver underscored this development in his report to the chairman, emphasizing that “despite this decision, many of the organizations and people who have worked with us are now more determined than ever to guide our program to a successful conclusion, and they feel that, in so doing, victory will be ours.[36]

The mayor, always concerned he was not doing enough for the NCFPB, had written to Oliver on April 5, regretting that he did not have more time to work with the committee and adding, “I am particularly encouraged when I read about the successful tournaments we are holding.  It is very important to destroy by concrete action the myths and stereotypes and rationalizations which are used to defend discrimination.”[37]

Championing Civil Rights at Democratic National Convention

April found Mayor Humphrey very busy with preparations for the July 1948 Democratic National Convention.  Yet he found time to write to a number of outstanding Americans, asking them to join his National Committee and to participate in its bowling tournaments.  The response was exceedingly gratifying.  A large number of people agreed to help the chairman achieve his goals by joining locals in their neighborhoods and by protesting the ABC’s racist practice.  Inquiries came from around the country about the NCFPB-sponsored tournaments, which were gaining strength.  In response to one such letter, from a Mr. C. Wright, Jr. of Alameda, California, Humphrey wrote, “The Committee is doing a wonderful job, and we have now held many All American Tournaments, none of which was marked by disturbances of any kind.  We are going to break down discrimination in bowling if it takes the next twenty years.”[38]  Replying to a similar inquiry from Alfred S. Butwinich, chairman of the Twin Cities Section, National B’nai B’rith Bowling Association, Humphrey wrote, “This will probably be a long, hard fight, but we are working steadily and courageously to bring brotherhood to the bowling alleys.”[39]

During the summer Humphrey spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and against all odds persuaded the convention to adopt a meaningful civil rights plank.  Most scholars agree that his performance was stunning, and his speech’s stated ideals reverberate among liberal Democrats even now.  The speech stupefied the southern delegation.  Their shock was not relieved when the convention voted for the civil rights plan.  To go along with this platform meant that all sports in the South, where Democrats held sway and where all sports were segregated by state law, at least token desegregation had to occur. [40] This was too much.  The southern delegation would not have white men playing against Negroes.  Certain possible outcomes would be too much to endure, whether it be football or bowling.  Led by Strom Thurmond, this group soon formed the Dixiecrat Party.  It remained a political nuisance until the 1960’s when federal laws and rising African political influence removed all trace of it.  While some quarters raised concerns that his performance would damage his senatorial candidacy back home, it, in fact, had the opposite effect.  By the end of November, he was senator-elect from the state of Minnesota.

Though preparing for his new role as a U.S. Senator, Humphrey still found time to be involved in the activities of the NCFPB, urging his vice chair Betty Hicks to attend a meeting of the New Jersey state CIO Council and the NCFPB representatives in Newark, New Jersey set for December 17, 1948.[41]  He sent similar letters to Martin C. Kelley of the black National Bowling Association, Inc. as well as members of the NCFPB throughout the country.[42]

Legal action against the ABC

On December 10, William Oliver steadfastly working for the UAW-CIO informed the new senator that the New Jersey CIO Council felt they had grounds for legal action against the ABC, based upon a state law against discrimination.  Oliver expressed the hope that the senator-elect could join them on December 17 for a meeting in New Jersey, at which time they would discuss this plan of action.  The presence of the chairman or a representative was considered vital because, as Oliver noted in his letter, “the legal staffs of the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Labor Committee, The Anti-Defamation League, the UAW-CIO, as well as the New Jersey State CIO legal staff, will be present and will participate in these discussions.”[43]  Before embarking full speed on this course, however, all parties agreed to defer legal action until a March 7, 1949 meeting with the ABC.  The group hoped that at that time, the American Bowling Congress would willingly desegregate.

At this March meeting, Senator Humphrey’s statement summed up the sentiments of the organizations that met in the December New Jersey meeting.  He stressed the example ABC set for prejudice and discrimination in schools, its position as a public organization that could not beg the privileges of a private fraternal organization, the damage inflicted on American sportsmanship by racist restrictions, the inconsistent enforcement of its discriminatory rules, and the invalidity of its contention that blacks and whites were not ready for mixed competition.  Finally, he predicted that discrimination spelled deterioration for the American Bowling Congress.[44]

Franklin Williams, Assistant Special Counsel for the NAACP, also attended this meeting and echoed the senator’s views, while several other representatives of religious and civil rights groups added their voices to the general theme that the ABC’s racially exclusionary clause was not only racist, it was unlawful.  Yet the ABC rejected all pleas to desegregate.  Adding insult to injury, it decided to conduct its 1950 national tournament next door to Minneapolis, in St. Paul.[45]

The new year found Senator Hubert Humphrey in Washington, D.C., short of personal funds, having difficulty securing a place to live and finding his way around the Senate chambers.  The first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota since it became a state in 1858, his reputation as a crusader for civil rights continued to enrage Southern senators, and even some from Minnesota’s neighbor states.  On one occasion, Senator Richard Russel of Georgia asked a group of his friends within earshot of the young senator, “Can you imagine the people of Minnesota sending that damn fool down here to represent them?”[46]  Faced with such hostility from a number of his fellow senators, and burdened by ancillary responsibilities because of his high profile, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey could no longer sustain the chairmanship of the NCFPB.

In mid-April, Humphrey passed the National Committee’s chairmanship to Betty Hicks, though he remained apprised of its activities.[47]  The organization, under Humphrey’s leadership, had developed a solid nation-wide following, evidenced by the flurry of encouraging letters the chairman received from various parts of the country.  A professor of physiology at George Williams College in Chicago, for instance, wrote to Humphrey, declaring, “Our students have refused to play on alleys that would forbid our Negro students to join them.”[48]  Another letter came from Ben Solomon, editor of Youth Leaders’ Digest, requesting details of the NCFPB’s work for publication,[49] and Randall V. Frakes of the State Board of Health in Indiana assured the chairman that he would attempt to focus attention on the problem in bowling in his contacts with schools and colleges in the state.[50]  Such letters illustrated the growing support for the organization’s efforts throughout the country.

Though the NCFPB regretted his departure as chair of its National Committee, it was an appropriate time for the senator to step down, as all indicators pointed to a maturing movement on its way to a likely victorious end.  But in the meantime serious work had to be done.  Even though Betty Hicks showed competence, it was Walter Oliver and the UAW-CIO who now took on most of the burden for the final push.

By April, 1949, the Los Angeles CIO in cooperation with the NCFPB was now ready to fight the ABC in court.[51]  So too were the states of New Jersey, New York, and Illinois.  The UAW-CIO, though it had suspended major financial support for the NCFPB bowling tournaments, still provided funds for tournament trophies, and also retained the indefatigable William Oliver to coordinate the union’s effort with the National Committee. 

Ending discrimination in bowling

The major supporting catalyst for ending racial discrimination in bowling in 1950 came, however, from another member of the CIO, Philip Murray, the president of the United Steelworkers Union-CIO [SWU-CIO].  He had been a member of the National Committee of the NCFPB from early on with Walter Reuther, when in April 1949 the ABC had physically protested the presence of a Black bowler in a SWU-CIO tournament, Philip Murray had had enough.  Working with the law firm of Goldberg, Devoe and Brussell of Chicago and with the support of UAW-CIO, the lawyers filed a brief with the Attorney General of Illinois, and with state’s attorney for Cook County, Illinois for the state and county to prosecute the ABC to revoke its segregationist policy under Illinois state law.  Indeed, Illinois state law, Revised Statute, Sections 125 and 126 clearly stated that discrimination on the basis of color which manifests itself in “places of public … amusement,” such as bowling alleys, was a violation of law.[52]

State’s Attorney John S. Boyle struck first on October 24, 1949.  He argued on the basis of the brief filed by the Steelworkers, and “friends of the court” briefs from other co-aides within the CIO, and demanded that should the ABC be unable to show that it was not in violation of Illinois law, then it should “be ousted and expelled and prevented and prohibited from the exercise of said liberties, privileges and franchises.”[53]  It took six months for this case to be decided against the ABC.  In the interim the states of Wisconsin, Ohio and New York filed similar suits all based on state antidiscrimination law, so that when the Cook County, Illinois, Superior Court, on April 22, 1950, found the ABC in violation of state law, fined the Congress $2,500 and threatened to void ABC’s chapter, the American Bowling Congress knew that its years of racial bigotry were over.  Three weeks later, it removed its “white male sex” only clause.  Segregation in bowling was over.[54]

At the time of the ABC’s forced decision to end its segregationist policy, Senator Hubert Humphrey was already deep in many struggles in the U.S. Senate to create civil rights programs for the nation, despite very determined opposition from mostly Southern segregationists and their congressional representatives.  Against such a large contingent, he could hope to be only partially successful, but he pressed on, exhibiting the same confident expectation of success he showed in his leadership of the National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling.  With that group he had been thoroughly successful.

By 1949, though no longer the NDFPB chairman, the structures he had fashioned and the policies he had formulated were in place.  He, in close collaboration with Walter Reuther of the UAW-CIO, had encouraged competing integrated tournaments, created a national network of politically influential and dedicated people, made certain that groups most affected by the “white male sex” clause were kept fully informed and assisted in their own additional efforts.

Hubert H. Humphrey is today remembered by most as a great statesman and a “great American,” as the saying goes, but his role in leading labor unions and hundreds of progressive organizations into a successful fight to end segregation in the sport of bowling is little known.  Even though major newspapers of the period reported the end of segregation by the American Bowling Congress, none credited Hubert Humphrey with a role in this historic event.  At times, even the NCFPB was not included in the story.

In the black community, the chairman’s work did not go unnoticed by those able to obtain the kind of news it generated.  Cecil Newman, editor of The Spokesman, a black newspaper in Minneapolis, worried that Humphrey’s work on behalf of civil rights would cost him votes, and hence, his ability to achieve his progressive goals, counseled him, “I’d rather see you mayor, knowing how you feel, than to let some of these bigots start attacking you as a Negro-lover.”[55]

But elsewhere, the African American population, depending as it did on reporters, heard only of the attorneys and institutions that had brought about the ABC’s capitulation and nothing about Hubert Humphrey’s role in its desegregation.  Very few of them know that he had said back in 1947:

I accepted the chairmanship in the National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling because I believe in these things.  I believe in fair play and equal participation, and if you believe in something, you should be willing to stick your neck out once in a while.  It is time that we wake up to the fact that as citizens in a democracy, we have responsibilities.  We are serious in Minneapolis about human relations—we are serious about fair treatment and fair employment.[56]

Very few in the black population knew of this statement made on their behalf, but they had heard of him in his other civil rights struggles, and in the 1968 presidential election gave him 88% of their votes.  By then bowling hade been desegregated for eighteen years and African Americans in amicable competition with whites, were already performing splendidly.

[1] Al Matzelle and Jerry Schneider, History of the American Bowling Congress: Celebrating 100 Years of Service to the Sport of American Tenpins (Milwaukee: American Bowling Congress, 1995), 28.

[2] Matzelle and Schneider, 26.

[3] Hubert H. Humphrey to Joe E. Brown, October 1, 1947, William H. Oliver Collection (hereinafter Oliver), Box 2, File: Crossfire National #1, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs (hereinafter LUA), Wayne State University (hereinafter WSU).

[4] Report of Mildred Jeffrey, Director of the Women’s Bureau of the Fair Practices and Anti-Discrimination Department, Minutes of the Minneapolis Area Committee for Fair Play in Bowling, September 11, 1947, Oliver, Box 3, File: Minnesota Region Bowling Commission, LUA, WSU. (Hereinafter MRBC).

[5] “CYO Bowlers Ask ABC to Drop Color Ban,” The Chicago Defender, November 30, 1946, p. 19.

[6] “CIO Throws Bowling Ball at Jim Crow in State Meet,” The Chicago Defender, June 29, 1946, p. 7.

[7] Hubert H. Humphrey, The Education of a Public Man:  My Life and Politics (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976), p. 66.

[8] Timothy N. Thurber, The Politics of Equality: Hubert H. Humphrey and the African American Freedom Struggle (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), p. 37.

[9] Jews as well as Blacks and Native Americans suffered from violent discrimination, which the mayor was determined to address in his administration.  Humphrey recalls one instance in which a policeman called a traffic violator a “dirty Jew,” and whom he then suspended for fifteen days without pay.  See Humphrey, p. 99.

[10] Thurber, 38.

[11] Report of Conference to Promote Democratic Participation in Bowling, April 1, 1947, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Papers, Library Congress, p. 11.  (Hereinafter the NAACP Papers.)

[12] William H. Oliver to Geri Hoffner, July 29, 1947, MRBC.

[13] Oliver to Dr. Homer S. Jack, July 29, 1947, Oliver, Box 1, File: Chicago Regional Bowling Commission, LUA, WSU.

[14] Oliver; Victor G. Reuther, UAW-CIO Education Department director; and Olga Madar, UAW-CIO Recreation Department director to Sinclair Lewis, August 7, 1947, Oliver, Box 2, File: Crossfire National #1, LUA, WSU.  (Hereinafter CNI).

[15] James M. Mead to Oliver, August 23, 1947, CNI.

[16] Humphrey to Madar, September 6, 1947, MRBC.

[17] Minutes of the Minneapolis Area Committee for Fair Play in Bowling, September 11, 1947, MRBC.

[18] Oliver to Wilfred Leland, September 29, 1947, MRBC.

[19] Humphrey to Brown, October 1, 1947.

[20] Humphrey to Rev. H. Otheman Smith, October 7, 1947, Oliver, Box 2, File:  Crossfile National #2, LUA, WSU.  (Hereinafter CN2.)

[21] Humphrey to All Members of the National Committee for Fair Play in Bowling, October 29, 1947, CN2.

[22] Humphrey to Charles Johnson, December 11, 1947, Oliver, Box 3, St. Paul Regional Bowling Commission, LUA, WSU.

[23] Humphrey to Charles Johnson, December 11, 1947, Oliver, Box 3, St. Paul Regional Bowling Commission, LUA, WSU.

[24] K. O’Brien of the Brooklyn National League Baseball Club, to Humphrey, January 12, 1948, Oliver, Box 3, File: Crossfile National #3, LUA, WSU.

[25] Lawrence A. Rogers, National Director of Athletics for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to Humphrey, January 26, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[26] Humphrey and Hicks to NCFPB Committee Members, January 9, 1948, Hubert H. Humphrey Papers, LUA, WSU.  (Hereinafter the Humphrey Papers.)  On this correspondence are handwritten schedule notes:  January 30, 12:15 – A.D.A. Luncheon – Nicollet Hotel; 3:30 – Dr. Hill; January 31, 12:00 – Saturday Luncheon Club.

[27] Archbishop John Gregory Murray to Humphrey, April 17, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[28] Humphrey to Murray, April 21, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[29] Humphrey to Dave Egan, February 24, 1948, CN2.

[30] UAW-CIO Public Relations Department Press Release, March 5, 1948, NAACP Papers.

[31] Humphrey and Hicks to Mike Masaoka, February 20, 1948, CN2.

[32] Hicks to Humphrey, March 17, 1948, Humphrey Papers.  On the letter are scribbled a few schedule notes underscoring the chairman’s reasons for not attending:  April 13, 10am – Pension Board; 2pm – Teachers Retirement; 8:30pm PTA – Lyndale School.

[33] Humphrey to Hicks, March 22, 1948, UAW Recreation Department, Series 1, Box 1, File: Fair Play in Bowling – National, LUA, WSU.

[34] Day letter from Humphrey to ABC’s Minneapolis delegation, April 12, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[35] Arthur Ashe, Jr., A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete Since 1946 (New York:  Warner Books, 1988), p. 129-131.

[36] Oliver to Humphrey, April 20, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[37] Humphrey to Oliver, April 5, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[38] Humphrey to C. Wright, Jr., April 26, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[39] Humphrey to Alfred S. Butwinich, May 10, 1948, Humphrey Papers.

[40] Thurber, p. 62-64.

[41] Humphrey to Hicks, December 9, 1948, Oliver, Box 3, New Jersey Regional Bowling Commission, LUA, WSU.  (Hereinafter NJRBC.)

[42] Humphrey to Martin C. Kelley, December 9, 1948, NJRBC.

[43] Oliver to Humphrey, December 10, 1948, MRBC.

[44] Statement by Chair Humphrey submitted to the ABC, March 7, 1949, Oliver, Box 3, File: Crossfile National #4, LUA, WSU.  (Hereinafter CN4.)

[45] William M. Seabron of the Minneapolis Urban League to Humphrey, April 6, 1949, MRBC.

[46] Humphrey, p. 124.

[47] Oliver to Seabron, April 18, 1949, CN4.

[48] Arthur H. Steinhaus to Humphrey, January 25, 1949, Oliver, Box 2, Correspondence Miscellaneous, LUA, WSU.

[49] Ben Solomon to Humphrey, January 26, 1949, Oliver, Box 1, File: American Bowling Brief Requests, LUA, WSU.  (Hereinafter ABBR.)

[50] Randall V. Frakes to Humphrey, January 26, 1949, ABBR.

[51] Oliver to Hicks and Madar, April 18, 1949, CN4.

[52] Notice, Congress of Industrial Organizations to Ivan A. Elliot and John S. Boyle, October 15, 1949, p. 1, Group 11, Box B-60, NAACP Papers, Library of Congress (hereinafter NAACP Papers.)

[53] Brief of State’s Attorney of Cook County, Illinois v. American Bowling Congress, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, October 24, 1949, Oliver, Box 1, Folder: Chicago Regional Bowling Commission, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs (hereinafter ALUA), Wayne State University (hereinafter WSU), P. 7.

[54] “Bowling Congress Ends Color Bar Under Fire in Courts of Four States,” The New York Times, May 13, 1950, p. 1.

[55] Timothy N. Thurber, The Politics of Equality:  Hubert H. Humphrey and the African American Freedom Struggle, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), p. 38-39

[56] Minutes of Minneapolis meeting, September 11, 1947.


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