During this year’s Juneteenth celebration, a Jackson State University Development Foundation board member is opening a new golf driving range and putting green that will cater specifically to youth in the Mississippi Delta town of Lambert, in partnership with its twin city Marks.
Howard D. Catchings, an insurance magnate and JSU alum, is sponsoring the event at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 19. Lambert is the proprietor, and Catchings is the benefactor.
Juneteenth is a date that holds special significance to Catchings, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from JSU. For one, it’s his birthday. And, of course, on that date in 1865 the last slave community (Galveston, Texas) finally received word that the Civil War was over and that they were no longer slaves.
Also during that time in 1968, a Mule Train of destitute townsfolk journeyed from Marks to Washington, D.C. The covered wagon convoy was inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. days before he was assassinated on April 4. It aimed to mobilize impoverished Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds for a “Poor People’s Campaign” for economic justice.
King had announced at the National Cathedral in Washington that “I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Quitman County – the poorest county in the United States. And, I tell you I saw hundreds of black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear.”
Now, Marks and Lambert will become beneficiaries of a new dream that’s becoming a reality. Aptly named the Howard D. Catchings Golf Driving Range and Putting Green, the namesake has used golf to catapult his insurance business. With great anticipation, he said, “Local youth, especially high school students, are expected to be nurtured into golfing for health and economic reasons.” He also reflects on the adage that “business deals are often struck on the golf course.”
Nevertheless, Catchings laments that many people simply lack the resources necessary to benefit from golf. “Traditionally, in the Mississippi Delta, Black boys and girls have not had access to golf personally or as an interscholastic sport,” he said.
As a result, residents of Lambert and Marks are remedying that situation, starting with the driving range and putting green. Eventually, an 18-hole golf course will be developed. Schoolchildren will have free, controlled access to golf facilities; others will have to pay.