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Honoring the great Ann Gregory, who fought racism to become the first Black champion in professional golf

March 15, 2023 by  
Filed under Feature


Ann Gregory’s daughter JoAnn Gregory Overstreet

March is Women’s History Month, as we honor the countless women who have contributed to our country. No one can deny the extraordinary contributions of legendary Black women — leaders, thinkers, and achievers who laid the foundation for American progress. 

Some of the most well-known historical figures — women like Harriet Tubman, Phyllis Wheatley, Dr. Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, and Sojourner Truth — helped to lift the veil of discrimination and provide a pathway to dignity and advancement. Those and other names will echo through the ages, and we are giving a special spotlight to someone who broke the glass ceiling in professional golf — and whose achievements provide a roadmap to a winning attitude for life. 

Las Vegas Black Image is honored to share the story of professional golf great Ann Gregory (1912-1990) — from her daughter JoAnn Gregory Overstreet’s point of view. 

We were invited to Raiders headquarters for a special screening of “Playing Through,” based on the life of Ann Gregory — who was described by the late Arthur Ashe in his book, “Hard Road to Glory,” as the “best African American female golfer of the 20th Century, and there was no one who was a close second.” 

Ms. Gregory’s professional golf career road resulted in her becoming the first Black woman in the United States Golf Association (USGA) Championship. She began in the late 1950s when discrimination and segregation governed all but the totality of Black life. but Ms. Gregory’s determination to never accept “no,” because of the color of her skin was the engine that pressed through the walls of inequality. In a career that spanned five decades, she won over 300 worldwide tournaments and her crowning achievement was winning the gold medal at the US Senior Olympics in 1989 by a whopping 4 strokes over women 25 years her junior. 

We sat down with JoAnn Gregory Overstreet for a conversation about her mother’s life and legacy.

What were some of the characteristics that your mother handed down to you? 

I know my mother was a very strong woman — and I always wanted to be strong like her, in terms of my views and actions. She always wanted to let people affected by racism know that it doesn’t have to cripple you and make you believe that you can’t do what you really want to do — contrary to how people treat you. One must believe that they are able and capable despite the roadblocks of discrimination. My mother loved the game of golf, and she also wanted to break the racial barrier because she wanted to play with the best. She had the gift for being a great golfer and she wanted to be the best. I know she would be proud of her granddaughters’ (Lorie and Piper) career accomplishments and her great grandkids’ (Torrance, Taryn, and Hailey) achievements in school.

In “Playing Through,” the young lady who portrayed your mother was fabulous. 

Yes, her name is Andia Winslow. She was the first African American female to attend Yale University on q golf scholarship. She came to our family and asked many questions about mom, because she wanted to do a great job portraying her. We knew she would a good job and she really did a terrific job.

What do you think the bigger message is for all women in “Playing Through?” 

I feel that the bigger message one can take from the movie is what my mother fought for — and that was, “If you desire to make a difference in your life that you will be remembered for — you can. You can set a new precedent for excellence with your talents and inspire other women to do the same. Be your best!”

Did your mother want you to become a golfer? 

Yes, and she would bundle me up, as a small child, and take me with her the golf course. Also, after my dad came back from World War II, we were always by her side on golf courses everywhere.

What can we still learn from your mother’s life today? 

My mother truly did not believe in the word “no.” She was a trailblazer and pioneer who set the stage for every African American female in the game of golf. She endured adversity to compete in the field of golf as an African American woman. Her boundless spirit allowed her to overcome inequality and to set the stage for other women to follow her in the unattested professional golf game. She was a role model in the field of athletics, social justice and a defender for the rights of others.

It was very interesting to see, in the film, your mother’s sensitivity and kinship with white women. 

That was another reason to do the film. My mother believed that you don’t have to have a feeling of racism in a segregated environment. My mother had to overcome many indignities, yet her character created a pathway towards building an extraordinary career. Her integrity, faith, and strength carried her through. She knew she had the courage and belief in God to refuse to let the word “no” stop her. 

In conclusion, please allow me to note, at the time of my mother’s passing, Carolyn Cudone, a national USGA champion commented, “Ann was a lady and could really play. She was a fine competitor and she played the game as it should be played.”

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