One of the joys of writing about real people is the real people you get to meet that are connected to that person’s life. Writing CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF put me in touch with two extraordinary people in their own right: Charlie Sifford’s son, Charles Sifford, Jr., and Matthew Mosk, grandson of Stanley Mosk, the lawyer and former California State Supreme Court Judge who intervened with the PGA Tour to eliminate the Caucasian Clause in their constitution that prevented the right of Charlie and all other golfers of color to compete in their tournaments.
Tuesday, Aug. 20 marks a key moment in Charlie Sifford’s life, in the history of golf and in the ongoing fight for civil rights. It is the anniversary of the day Charlie Sifford won the Greater Hartford Open Invitational in 1967 — the first PGA Tour win by the first African American on the PGA Tour. The enormity of what Charlie Sifford accomplished, persevering with his dream of playing golf at the highest level, has been acknowledged by President Barack Obama, who awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
I’m very grateful to Charles Sifford Jr. and Matthew Mosk for sharing their memories with us here on THE KIDS ARE ALL WRITE. Here’s a Q and A with Charles Sifford Jr. followed by words from Matthew Mosk.
My Q and A with Charles Sifford Jr.
Aug. 20 marks the 52nd anniversary of your father’s win at the Greater Hartford Open Invitational in 1967. Did you know then the significance of this win? How do you feel about it now, looking back?
I was 20 years old when my father won the tournament in 1967 and at that time I did not realize the significance of his tournament win. I knew it was a career goal but in the moment it did not loom large other than as a means to support our family.
I now realize it was a major accomplishment. In fact, it was a significant achievement considering no one expected an African American to play on the PGA tour let alone win a major tournament at the age of forty-five.
When your father started his career as a professional golfer, there were a lot of people who didn’t think that golf would ever be integrated. What do you think gave your parents the will to go for his goal?
My father was a fighter; he was very determined and was not going to let anyone or anything stop him from achieving his teenage dream. My mother had a quiet demeanor but an even stronger resolve in support of his golf career. She was always encouraging and supported him in pursuit of his dream as well as taking care of the family while he was on the tour.
Did you understand growing up what he was trying to do? How did you feel about it?
Growing up I did not understand what he was attempting to do; he was driven to make his mark in golf – he always wanted to pursue the sport he loved and knew he had to work hard to achieve success.
I have become aware that he did something amazing. He would often say if a person has a dream and works hard, he has a good chance of becoming successful regardless of the obstacles faced.
Were there some rough or scary experiences along the way for your family? What were the biggest sacrifices your family had to make?
The most frightening experience my father faced was his personal security. He often played amid death threats; disrespectful treatment by professionals and businesses; as well as the racial indignities and insults by golf fans. Several times he was told if he appeared at the golf course he would leave in a body bag. There were other issues associated with his tour travel, especially in the southern part of the country. There were many restaurants would not serve him; and hotels refused accommodations. In addition, many times tournaments clubhouse facilities refused him access to the locker room. He would often change his clothes in the car.
I would say the biggest sacrifice our family made was my father’s daily absence from the family. While on tour he was often away weeks at a time. In the early tour years it was not safe for my mother or me to accompany him. In addition, my mother also worked to assist in supporting the family. In the move to Los Angeles for more tour opportunities we left our strong family support system in Philadelphia.
Your father got to experience some amazing recognition in his lifetime. Can you tell us what it meant to him to go the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014?
Being selected as the first African American golfer to receive the Medal of Freedom Award was one of the greatest experiences. The award was most notable as it was presented by the first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama. My father was 92 years old. He was overly excited upon hearing he would receive the award. He wanted new clothes and shoes, expressing his desire to look his best to meet the President. He shared the good news with family and friends. Although, this was an unexpected award he was extremely grateful and beamed with pride. He wore his award attire with the distinguished medal to church still beaming with pride.
What was it like for him to see the rise of Tiger Woods?
He was very happy Tiger came along and made significant accomplishments in golf. He was disappointed that other golfers of color took so long to win major tournaments and there are so few minority players on the tour. Calvin Peete won many tournaments in the 80s.
What are some of the honors for your father that have made you proud?
The family witnessed his induction in the World Golf Hall of Fame- another extraordinary accomplishment. We were proud of him when we watched in awe as he spoke to acknowledge his award. Family pride was on display again as my brother and I accompanied him to Scotland. He received an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the University of St. Andrews. He was extremely proud of this honor because he did not get an opportunity to graduate from high school.
In 2015, after your father passed away, you accepted the award for your father being inducted in the PGA Hall of Fame. How did that feel?
I felt immense pride to accept the award on my father’s behalf for the PGA Hall of fame. I only wish he was around to personally accept the award.
One thing that surprised me in working on CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, was how few people outside the golf world knew about your father’s courage, persistence and incredible achievements. Do you have any thoughts on why his story isn’t more widely known?
My father was not known outside of golf because many of his accomplishments happened long ago – he played as early as the 40’s 50’s. In addition, golf is a game that was played by the rich, on private country clubs where people of color could only hold menial jobs. This history of golf did not recall his early days, only later did he get the national recognition that made most golf enthusiasts aware of his accomplishments.
I am very grateful for your family’s support for the book. I hope it makes a difference in bringing his story to life for a new generation. Do you have any favorite parts?
I have read the book several times. One paragraph the stood out is the law suit filed to eliminate the Caucasian only clause; as a result he received his PGA tour card.
I understand you have a grandson who likes to play golf. Does he know his grandfather’s story? Does it make him proud?
My grandson, Gregory, is very proud of his Papa- he has his picture clipped on his book bag and several favorite pictures throughout his bedroom. He treasures the autographed copy of the book; he knows the story but may not fully comprehend all of the obstacles faced. He proudly states his Papa was the first African American golfer on the PGA tour.
Is there anything else you would like kids to know about your dad?
Children should know that my father was very fond of them – he specifically encouraged them to stay in school and get a good education. He encouraged them to work hard and not to give up on their dreams.
I would also like to say that my father always acknowledged the support as well as expressed admiration for his network of fellow African American golfers. Many were very close – Pete Brown; Jim Dent; Lee Elder, George Johnson, Walter Morgan; Calvin Peete; Ted Rhodes; Chuck and Jim Thorpe and entertainment or athletic professionals as well - boxer Joe Louis; singer Billy Eckstine; baseball player Jackie Robinson. In addition, he had a number of friends that supported him early on by providing lodging; meals and transportation as he pursued his professional golf career.
Thank you, Charles Sifford Jr. for this wonderful interview! And now a few words from Matthew Mosk, grandson of Stanley Mosk, who fought for Charlie Sifford’s right to play.
From Matthew Mosk:
Thank you for your interest in Stanley Mosk, and for your thoughtful portrayal of his role in helping Charlie Sifford erase the color lines. Stanley was very proud of that and other landmark cases — like his role in defeating racial covenants in housing. Stanley was my grandfather, and I think generally quite modest, so he didn’t talk much about it with me. (He used to joke that when he started his legal career in Los Angeles he had a $25 case and two smaller ones!)
But my father Richard, who was also a judge, was extraordinarily proud of this legacy and spoke of it often. And I believe he got to know the Sifford family as well as others who had worked with my grandfather to champion civil rights causes during the middle and latter part of the 20th century. My father wanted Stanley to be remembered for these legal fights, which took courage and creativity to win. So thanks to you for fulfillng that wish.
Thank YOU, Matthew Mosk, for these kind words and also for sharing this extraordinary photo of Stanley Mosk with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Stanley Mosk admired and supported.
CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF (written by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by John Joven, published by Albert Whitman & Company) was selected as a Silver Eureka winner by the California Reading Association and was featured at the Ruby Bridges Reading Festival at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee in 2018.
I’ll be presenting it next at the Tulisoma South Dallas Book Fair Saturday, Aug. 24 at the African American Museum in Fair Park in Dallas.
You can request autographed copies at Interabang Books. Schools and non-profits can request autographed copies through Express Booksellers. Books are also available at IPG Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local independent bookstore. If your library doesn’t carry Charlie Takes His Shot, please ask for it to be ordered and then, check it out! Your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are free and greatly appreciated. And yes, in case you were wondering, I am available for author visits through Authors & More. Thank you in advance for spreading the word about Charlie Sifford, Stanley Mosk and the great things that can happen when we take our shots and help others take theirs.