New York University Professor Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons shared his research of the life and career of African-American PGA Professional Jimmie DeVoe during appearances Feb. 17, at the PGA Museum of Golf in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and at PGA of America Headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens.
"I can't think of any single golf professional or member of The PGA of America who could help us trace the trajectory of The PGA of America in terms of race relations better than Jimmie DeVoe," said Dr. Sammons, a member of the New York University faculty since 1989.
DeVoe gained full PGA membership in 1962. The talented golf professional is credited as the golf instructor for such celebrities as the Mills Brothers, Ben Blue, Nat King Cole, Joe Louis and Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles.
Althea Gibson, who became the first African-American woman to compete on the world tennis tour and first to win a Grand Slam title, also made the career switch to golf as the first African-American member of the LPGA tour. Gibson also received lessons from DeVoe.
"To give you some sense of just how people thought of Jimmie DeVoe, when Althea Gibson decided to move from tennis to professional golf and the LPGA Tour, she decided she was going to have a series of lessons, and her first four lessons were from Jimmie DeVoe," said Sammons.
In 1944, DeVoe became the first African-American to compete in the Los Angeles Open and later became one of the first African-Americans to gain membership in The PGA of America after the rescinding of the Caucasian Clause in 1961.
"Jimmie lived to be four days short of his 91st birthday and still had lessons on his books when he passed away," said Sammons. "Golf was a way of life for him, a livelihood, and it actually was his life."