About 10 years ago I struck up a conversation at a convention with another African American man, Larry Powell, who talked proudly about his father, Bill Powell. Who, when faced with a closed door, because of racism, decided, rather than complain and beg for acceptance, he decided to build his own golf course.
Not since hearing the story of Marcus Garvey when I was a kid, has another Black man's determination had such a profound impact on me. Mr. Powel's story exemplifies what I tell my kids about overcoming against the odds. " In life, your success or failure is not so much determined by what happens to you," its how you react to what happens.
Our ancestors, like Mr. Powell, have showed us the way. All we have to do is follow it. Its was a group of Black investors who gave Mr. Powell the seed capital to start building his golf course.
Bill Powell, who was honored last summer as a racial pioneer in American golf more than 60 years after building a golf course while he was shunned by the sport he loved, died Thursday at a hospital in Canton, Ohio. He was 93.
The cause was complications from a stroke, the P.G.A. of America said.
In August 2009, when the P.G.A. of America held the 91st annual P.G.A. Championship in the Minneapolis area, it bestowed its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, on Mr. Powell.
According to the organization, Mr. Powell was the only African-American to build, own and operate a golf course in the United States.
When he returned to the Canton, Ohio, area from England in 1946 after serving in the Army Air Forces, Mr. Powell, a passionate golfer since caddying at age 9, was denied a chance to play on public courses. When he tried to get a bank loan to build his own course, he was rejected.
Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in major league baseball was still a year away. The nation’s golf courses, like much of America, remained segregated. And the P.G.A. of America’s bylaws barred nonwhites from membership, a ban that remained in effect until 1961.
But Mr. Powell, a security guard for the Timken bearing and steel company in Canton, was undaunted.
“It’s distasteful when you get turned down,” he told The New York Times in 2009. “You have a little pride. You say the hell with them. You say I’m not going to badger. I’m not going to beg them. So I said I’ll just build a golf course.”
And so he did.
With financial help from two black physicians and a loan from a brother, Mr. Powell bought 78 acres on a dairy farm in East Canton.
Doing most of the labor by hand, helped by his wife, Marcella, Mr. Powell seeded pastures, tossed aside boulders and pulled up fence posts. In April 1948, what he called “this crazy dream” came true. He opened Clearview Golf Club with an initial nine holes and welcomed players of all races.
There were incidents of vandalism in the course’s early years — flag sticks were removed and ethnic slurs scrawled — but the course flourished, and Mr. Powell expanded it to 18 holes in 1978, having bought a total of 130 acres. The Department of the Interior designated Clearview as a national historic site in 2001.
“He was just obsessed,” Mr. Powell’s son, Larry, the Clearview course superintendent, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in 2009. “He put all his efforts mentally, emotionally and physically into accomplishing his goal.”
When Mr. Powell, bent by age, was honored by the P.G.A. of America, he received congratulations from President Obama and former President George H. W. Bush. And he was accorded four standing ovations by the audience of more than 600 at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis.
Seated in a large leather chair, he read an acceptance speech that his daughter, Renee, a pioneering figure in women’s pro golf, helped him craft. In it, he explained why he had built Clearview. “I did not want other people who wanted to play the game of golf to have to suffer the indignities that I had,” he said.
He closed with his credo: “Stand firm. Never give up. Never give in. Believe in yourself, even when others don’t.”
William James Powell was born in Greenville, Ala., then moved with his family to Minerva, Ohio, some 20 miles from Canton, as a youngster. He played golf and football in high school and attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, a historically black school, where he was a member of the golf squad.
With few decent job openings for blacks, Mr. Powell was hired at Timken as a janitor, but a few months later he became the company’s first black security guard. Returning to Timken after the war, he worked nights to support his family while building his golf course.
When Renee was 3 years old, Mr. Powell designed a miniature golf club and gave her lessons at Clearview. In 1967, Renee Powell became the second black woman, after Althea Gibson, to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour. She competed on the tour until 1980 and is now the head pro at Clearview.
In an e-mail message, Renee said of her father, “Early on we found that we had to share him with the world and what a gift he was!” In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Powell, who lived in East Canton, is survived by twin sisters, Mary Alice Walker, of Akron, Ohio, and Rose Marie Mathews, of Minerva. His wife died in 1996.
The National Golf Foundation presented its Jack Nicklaus Golf Family of the Year Award to the Powells in 1992.
But Mr. Powell cherished a tribute beyond the spotlight as well. In 1997, as he told The Akron Beacon Journal, he was thrilled when two white women drove from Atlanta just to play his course.
“They shook my hand and thanked me,” he said. “They said I have a piece of history here, and they wanted to be a part of it. Can you imagine?”