If the Austin, Texas golf course is included in the National Register of Historic Places, the designation could pose a challenge to the University of Texas System’s plans to lease the property for commercial and residential development. An activist group called Save Muny states the property was the first public golf course in the South to have been desegregated.
Activists in Austin, Texas, backed by scholars here and elsewhere, have nominated Lions Municipal Golf Course for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places—a designation that could pose a challenge to the University of Texas System’s plans to lease the property for commercial and residential development, the Austin Statesman reported.
Save Muny, a group whose name is synonymous with its mission, says the 141-acre tract, sometimes called “Muny,” in West Austin warrants listing on the national register because it is considered the first public golf course in the South to have been desegregated. Although such a listing by itself wouldn’t prohibit the sort of mixed-use development that the UT System has long contemplated, it could make the system and its Board of Regents wary of destroying a site of national significance in the civil rights movement, the Statesman reported.
The regents have scheduled a closed-door discussion for today, with possible action in open session, “regarding legal issues associated with the nomination.” System officials seemed to suggest that they might be open to preserving part of the area but weren’t dropping plans to lease most, if not all of it, for development. The course, which has been leased to the city for decades, is part of the 350-acre, UT System-owned Brackenridge Tract, the Statesman reported.
“The UT System does not support the listing of the entire golf course as a national historic district,” system spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said. “However, we strongly believe in recognizing the historical significance of the desegregation of Lions Municipal Golf Course, and we are investigating the most appropriate way to do that in a manner consistent with the use of the Brackenridge Tract for the benefit of the University of Texas. The lease with the city of Austin ends in 2019, and we are taking a long-term view in the planning for the property and for the commemoration and recognition of Lions Muny’s desegregation as an important event in Austin’s history.”
The nomination comes at a time when UT’s flagship campus in Austin is defending its use of affirmative action in admissions before the U.S. Supreme Court. The course became desegregated quietly and peacefully late in 1950 after the high court ordered the university to admit a black man to the UT School of Law, according to nomination paperwork. That ruling helped foster tolerance that figured into city officials’ decision not to interfere when two young black men walked on to play the course, the Statesman reported.
Extensive scholarship on Southern golf course desegregation “proves that Muny was the first golf course to desegregate in the states of the former Confederacy,” said Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, a Yale University history professor, in a letter supporting national listing.
“It is as much a piece of the American story—and potentially as powerful as a teachable experience—as the historic battlefields we protect and embrace,” wrote Jacqueline Jones, who chairs UT’s history department.
The Board of Regents cited financial and ethical obligations when it decided in 2011 to let the city’s lease expire without renewal in May 2019. The city pays a few hundred thousand dollars a year in rent for land that could fetch at least $5.5 million a year if leased for a mixed-use development, the UT System’s executive director of real estate estimated at the time, the Statesman reported.
The Texas Historical Commission’s State Board of Review, a gatekeeper of sorts, will consider the nomination when it meets January 23 in San Antonio. The final call on listing is up to the National Park Service. A state historical marker was placed at the course in 2009, the Statesman reported.