On November 7, 1955 the US Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Holmes v. Atlanta case, a ruling that called for the racial desegregation of Atlanta’s public golf courses. This exhibition, “Holmes v. Atlanta: Changing the Game,” commemorates the 60th anniversary of that decision. The plaintiffs in the case were members of a prominent Atlanta African American family: physician Hamilton M. Holmes, and his two sons, Reverend Oliver W. Holmes and Alfred F. “Tup” Holmes.
According to family, friends, and historians, Tup Holmes was not only a talented golfer but also the “rabble rouser” of the group. He was able to access municipal golf courses while living and working in Detroit, Michigan. However, upon his return to his hometown of Atlanta, the legacy of Southern “Jim Crow” laws meant that he could only play the black owned and operated Lincoln County Club. In 1951 the Holmes trio and family friend, Charles T. Bell attempted to play the Bobby Jones golf course but were denied access. This set off a series of negotiation attempts with the city that eventually resulted in the Holmes trio filing a lawsuit. The NAACP and lawyer Thurgood Marshall, a future Supreme Court Justice, would eventually join the case greatly contributing to the favorable 1955 Supreme Court decision.
The spirit of the Supreme Court’s Holmes v. Atlanta ruling followed their landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education which overturned the legality of “separate but equal” state education laws. Holmes v. Atlanta was among the first cases to extend this precedent beyond education into other public accommodations and arguably had a more immediate impact. Fittingly, Tup and Oliver Holmes along with Charles Bell played the North Fulton golf course on December 24 and the Bobby Jones course on December 25, 1955 thus desegregating Atlanta public golf courses. As Atlanta historians Norman Shavin and Bruce Galpin observe, “the first scene of court-ordered desegregation in Georgia was a golf course and not a school house” further suggesting the case’s significance. This exhibition retells this story and shares the broader “game changing” impact of Holmes v. Atlanta.