Any high school history student in the United States has at least a vague understanding of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Also common knowledge is the fact that not everyone in the country was comfortable with the more “militant” manifestations of that movement, particularly in the realm of athletics, where activists like Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, and Tommie Smith made statements in ways that unsettled even some sympathetic observers.
Thankfully (at least from the perspective of this 1970 AP article), there was George Johnson.
George, you see, didn’t want no trouble from nobody. He was a happy-go-lucky guy who just wanted to play golf(!) and win on the PGA Tour. This article is ostensibly a report on the first round of the National Airlines Open, but the author took the opportunity to make a lot of points that, well . . . didn’t have too much to do with putting or sand traps.
To wit, the article begins, “George Johnson is one black athlete who isn’t militant, angry, or unhappy,” which calls to mind GOB Bluth’s slogan for his vetoed Colombian timeshare deal, “A Columbian [sic] cartel that won’t kidnap and kill you!”
The article goes on to say, “Like most Negro players on tour, Johnson cut his golfing teeth on the mostly-black United Golf Association tour. He won the UGA event at Cleveland in 1968, good for a puny $1,500 paycheck. Oddly, he edged out a white man…at the Cleveland tournament. ’We didn’t discriminate,’ laughed George.”
After a short detour to explain Johnson’s origins as a “vending machine man” at Fort Benning, the author helpfully concludes by reassuring us (white) readers that Johnson has never faced any sort of prejudice on tour—not even in the South! ”Everybody treats me great, like I said. The players, the town people, and the fans,” he said. What I like best about that quote is the ” . . . like I said,” which probably resulted from the AP reporter peppering Johnson with “but no one ever discriminates against you, right? Right?!?“-type questions for ten minutes.
Golfing pioneer Johnson would go on to become the fourth black player to win a PGA Tournament when he took the 1971 Azalea Open—presumably without making a fuss or raising a ruckus!