By ANGELA H. HILL
The year was 1968; a pivotal year in U.S. history and in the civil rights struggle for black Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is assassinated in Los Angeles.
Arthur Ashe becomes the first black man to win at the U.S. Open. Shirley Chisholm becomes the first black woman elected to U.S. Congress. Black Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos are stripped of their medals for raising fists in silent protest of racial discrimination.
Three students are killed by highway patrolmen in Orangeburg, S.C., following desegregation efforts at a bowling alley. Protests, sit-ins and marches are held nationwide. Riots erupt in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and in many smaller cities.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act.
Against this backdrop of the volley between civil rights wins and losses, Franklin County resident John Adams simply wanted to become a professional golfer.
In 1968, black golfers were not allowed at Willow Creek Country Club, the county’s only local course. Adams worked as a caddie. His cousins and friends caddied with him. He and classmate Sam Witcher played on the Franklin County High School team — but not on the country-club green.
“I wish we had the opportunity to reach our potential at that time, but we didn’t,” Adams said. “I stayed angry from about age 18 to age 43. I couldn’t be a Tiger Woods.
“I know for a fact that I would have been a professional golfer, but I’m thankful. If I had to go through it again I would, knowing how it helped others.”
Adams learned golf by becoming a caddie at age 8. “This is before golf carts,” he said. “We were the golf carts,” he added with a laugh.
He brought his cousins and neighbors into caddying, and kept the job through age 12. Even when golf carts came to be, “the doctors and the lawyers and the undertakers still wanted their caddies because the golf carts couldn’t go up on the hill and watch for where the ball went or answer, ‘Which club do you think I should use?’”
Adams said most of his fellow caddies are no longer alive, but they all went on to be successful business managers, military leaders, and small-business owners. Adams was a Class A contractor who built sectional homes.
He’s raised his own two daughters, and he and his wife of 46 years were instrumental in raising his three grandsons. “All three of them are A students,” Adams said with a broad smile.
Today, he said, he has no regrets. Following a 2-year-stint with a debilitating illness, Adams goes golfing every chance he can.
“I promote golf now to anyone who wants to learn it,” he added. “It’s not all skills. It’s a mind set ... You can’t lean on your team because you are the team. You can’t lose focus in golf and think you’re going to win the match.
“You’ve got to have the mentality to take the lead. You can’t go out there angry because the wife didn’t fry your egg the way you wanted it or you left the lights on in the car and now it won’t start. Every shot, you’ve got to focus.”
Adams also has advice for the generations behind him dealing with discrimination and racism.
“Anchor. Don’t go back, just keep looking forward. Just anchor. Because your time is going to come if you don’t give up.
“You can’t always go forward. Be still and wait upon the Lord. Be still. Your day will come.”