Lake Shore Country Club in Bratenahl opened as a nine-hole public golf course during World War II after being reconfigured from an eighteen-hole course following the departure of The Country Club to Pepper Pike. The Cleveland Golf Club, adjacent to and affiliated with The Country Club (with which it later merged) had originally opened to play in 1895, making it the first golf course west of the Appalachians. Soon after the course opened to the public in 1942, its operator Carmen Bill demonstrated that “public” simply meant whites who were able to pay to play. When Bill refused to allow Charles Curry, an African American golfer, on the links, attorney Clayborne George filed suit on Curry’a behalf in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The outcome is not known, and it is possible that a settlement was reached before the case went to trial.
Five years later, Black attorney Chester K. Gillespie and Charles P. Lucas, executive secretary of the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP, were denied access to the club’s golf course and prepared to file suit before working with the owner to reach a resolution that would lift the bar against Black golfers. However, just months later, Gillespie, Lucas, and Eugene Cheeks (also African American) went to the golf course with four white associates and were denied entry while the white patrons were accepted. In August 1948 the men filed an injunction. After repeated delays, the Common Pleas judge finally ruled in favor of Lake Shore Country Club on the grounds that it was still technically a private club despite its appearance of being open to the public rather than just to members. Despite the setback, Gillespie and Lucas won on appeal in January 1950, and the Lake Shore Country Club ruling joined the Euclid Beach anti-discrimination ordinance as a milestone in the struggle to desegregate Cleveland recreation spots. Indeed, Gillespie v. Lake Shore Golf Club was the first in the United States to result in a binding injunction against denying African Americans the use of a public golf course and was one of the more influential cases on the path to desegregating municipal courses.
Meanwhile, the clubhouse itself was also a contested venue. In 1947, the club refused to serve Robert P. Madison, the first Black student admitted into the Architecture program at Western Reserve University, at an end-of-the-year dinner for his class. Madison was summoned to meet with the club manager. When he walked in, he also found the WRU dean, two professors, and the class president waiting. After the class president warned that no one would eat if Madison were not served, the club reluctantly complied.
Despite Madison’s success in prevailing over the club’s Jim Crow policy, that policy remained in force, leading to another incident involving a college event seven years later. In 1954, a Fenn College sorority planned to hold a dance there, but when two Black students, Helen Newsome and Connie Ferrell, tried to purchase tickets to the dance, they were informed that the club refused to host interracial events. This led Fenn’s president, Dr. G. B. Ernst, to bar the event, but the students wanted a firmer stand. Reluctantly, Ernst agreed to allow the sale of tickets so that any racial bias would fall squarely on the club. He also accompanied the students into the club, an action that may have dissuaded the club from following through on its threat to have the Bratenahl Police arrest them.
Despite the gains, Lake Shore Country Club continued to make it difficult for African Americans to use its facilities. In 1961, by which time the club now required membership to play golf, Gillespie and Lucas arrived after seeing an advertisement in the Cleveland Press for memberships and said they were ready to join. They were handed applications and told they could not play until approved—for the 1962 season. When they attempted to go inside the clubhouse to submit their applications, they found the entrance locked. The men filed yet another lawsuit whose outcome is unknown, but the matter was on its way to being moot. In 1964, the club closed permanently and was redeveloped as Bratenahl Place, a high-rise condominium.
- “Barred: He Sues Golf Course Owner.” Call & Post. August 15, 1942.
- “Country Club.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. case.edu/ech/articles/c/country-club.
- “Court Rules Against ‘Private’ Golf Club: Strips Semi-Private Golf Club of Ruse To Bar Race Players.” Call & Post. January 28, 1950.
- Demas, Lane. Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
- “Denied Membership to Golf Club.” Call & Post. September 23, 1961.
- “Fenn Coeds Smash Club Bias; Cops Stand by As Negro Girls Dance at Club.” Call & Post. February 6, 1954.
- “Gillespie, Lucas Lose Golf Suit.” Call & Post. February 26, 1949.
- “Gillespie, Lucas Seek Ban On Bias At Exclusive Lake Shore Golf Club.” Call & Post. October 16, 1948.
- “Golf Course Decision, First Won Here, Upheld By High Court.” Call & Post. October 21, 1950.
- “Judge Artl Considers Question of Bias at Lake Shore Country Club.” Call & Post. October 23, 1948.
- Kirsch, George B. “Municipal Golf and Civil Rights in the United States, 1910-1965.” Journal of African American History 92, no. 3 (Summer, 2007): 371–391.
- Lucas, Charles P. “The Civil Rights Watch Dog.” Call & Post. February 11, 1950.
- Madison, Robert. Interview by Gregory James. August 1, 2006. Cleveland Voices. clevelandvoices.org/items/show/1833.
- “NAACP Eliminates Race Barrier At Golf Course: Lakeshore Course Now Open to All Cleveland Golfers.” Call & Post. June 14, 1947.
- “The Cleveland Golf Club and The Country Club.” Bratenahl Historical Society. bratenahlhistorical.org/index.php/country-club.