This week I’ll present another chapter in the young life of Sam Lacy, my pop.
Sam grew up in the U Street corridor of Washington, D.C., the mecca for colored people of the day. One of his buddies was Otto Hardwick, who later became a saxophonist for the Duke Ellington Band. On occasion, Sam would tag along to some of the gigs where Otto and his group of neighborhood band mates played. On one such occasion, the drummer went missing. At the encouragement of Otto, Sam sat in as guest drummer—anything for a buck. Having never held a pair of drumsticks in his life, this endeavor lasted until the first break when the band decided they would be better off with no drummer at all.
Another career opportunity down the tubes.
Being a good high school athlete, however, Sam decided to take on a job he knew best. He joined the LeDroit Tigers, a local semi pro team, as a pitcher. His notoriety on the mound led White teams to recruit him, though they billed him as an Algonquin Indian.
He had a drop pitch that would fall off a table, and he could break a curve ball three feet. Unfortunately, his fastball couldn’t break carbon paper.
This weakness was exposed in a game in Newport, R.I. during which a wind was blowing towards the mound. His junk pitches just hung over the plate, inviting hitters to tee off. After he was touched up for 11 runs in the first inning, he was given directions to the bus station.
Being a non-drinker and non-smoker, Sam decided he was a little tender for life on the road, so he turned his attention in another direction.
His older brother, Erskine, would pick up some extra cash as a caddy at Argyle Country Club. With Sam showing some interest, Erskine pulled a few strings and got him a spot at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md.
In 1921, the U.S. Open was held at Columbia. As a rookie caddy, Sam wasn’t among those assigned to the better golfers. Instead, he was given the bag of “Long” Jim Barnes, a golfer from England. “Long” Jim won the Open, and paid Sam $200. Sam was quite fond of saying he found himself standing on the corner of 11th & U Streets as an 18-year-old kid with more cash in his pocket than any colored man in Washington.
His joy was short-lived, however, when he went home and encountered his mother. She maintained that the only way a colored man could get that kind of cash all at one time was at the point of a gun. Fortunately, Erskine came to the rescue.
Shortly thereafter, Sam entered Howard University, and during summer breaks ran an elevator in a downtown apartment building, ever on the lookout for a buck. The ups and downs of the life of an elevator operator didn’t appeal to him, and he sought part-time employment at the Washington Tribune Newspaper. Since his forte was sports, he was given the local sports beat. He proved to be quite adept at this vocation, and in 1936 he was invited to join the staff of The Afro-American Newspaper.
This was just the beginning.
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