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Jackson Seeks an End to Augusta 'Apartheid'

Reverend says he will organize protest at the Masters unless club has a female member before tournament in April.

November 16, 2002|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Friday he will organize a major protest during the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club unless the club admits a female member before then.

"I believe the wall of discrimination will crumble before then, but if it doesn't, we will have students, women, pro athletes and public officials step in," said Jackson, president of the Chicago-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. "This insult is not limited to women. Apartheid, whether it be racial, religious or gender, as it is in this case, goes against the fabric of America."

Jackson said his ability to orchestrate effective picket-line protests -- he recently addressed striking longshoremen in San Pedro -- will focus significant attention on the absence of a female member at private Augusta National, the site since 1934 of golf's first major tournament of the year.

The club's chairman, Hootie Johnson previously dropped event sponsors, including IBM and Coca-Cola, so they could avoid the pressure being applied by Martha Burk's National Council of Women's Organizations. Johnson recently told reporters a woman would not become a member at Augusta National before next year's Masters on April 10-13.

"The tide is too great for Hootie to buck," Jackson said. "We have women in the Senate, women in combat, women in the Cabinet. Here's a guy thumbing his nose to the world by saying a woman can't be a member at his golf club."

Club officials refused to comment.

Jackson said several factors led to his involvement, mostly that he assessed the Georgia club's exclusion of women to represent "the very idea of apartheid." He expressed displeasure that few PGA Tour golfers had spoken publicly about the need for a policy change at Augusta National and criticized club members, some of whom are black, for not more actively engaging in the national debate.

Burk too has promised a protest of the policy during the Masters. She says protesters should be expected when the 67th Masters tournament begins.

"If nothing has changed, I'm sure we're going to see some public demonstrations of unhappiness," she said.

She said she does not know how many protesters to expect, but she said some students on spring break were potential demonstrators.

Johnson said earlier this week that he has given little or no thought to the specter of protesters at the Masters, or how such a scene would affect those in the television audience.

"I really don't have an idea," Johnson said. "I don't know that. What I do know is that our patrons will handle it well, if there are demonstrators."

Jackson said the challenge presented by Augusta National's policy is not nearly as daunting as those faced in past civil rights crusades in the South. But he said the importance of the protest extends far beyond what some have dismissed as much ado about what would be a minor accomplishment -- arguing for the possible right of a woman to be a member at one of the nation's most exclusive golf clubs.

"Your sense of justice must be indivisible," Jackson said. "This goes beyond the country club. It's a huge symbol, just like Rosa Parks getting out of the back of that bus in Montgomery [Ala.] This is about the entire issue of gender inequality and it goes against the essence of the idea that women are members of the human family. This has great significance, and it is a fight that will be won. It has to win. This policy is un-American."

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Times staff writer Thomas Bonk contributed to this report.

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