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Georgia Chess Association


William A. Scott III - HOF Class of 2024

Summary:

broke the color line of the SCA in 1951

broke the color line of the GCA in the 1960s

• Leader of Butler Street YMCA chess club: Metropolitan, Chesslers, Trojan

Atlanta Chess Association Vice President, 1963; President, 1965–1967

Peachtree Chess Club, member

• Atlanta chess organizer

• chess journalist

• scholastic chess instructor

• SCA Championship rapid transit division co-winner, 1951

Florida State Open winner, 1958

Georgia State Open winner, 1963

• Atlanta Chess Association team championship won by Scott’s Trojan Chess Club, 1964

• Peachtree Rapid Transit Tournament winner, 1965

• Peachtree Open tied for first, 1967

Atlanta Chess Club Champion and Speed Champion, 1967

• one of the strong players in Georgia in the 1960s

• blindfold player

 

William Alexander Scott III (1923–1992) was a notable African American Atlantan and an important figure in southern chess for several decades from 1950 until his death. His most significant contribution was breaking the color line of the Southern Chess Association (SCA) in 1951 and the Georgia Chess Association (GCA) in the 1960s. However, there was much more to the man.

Scott first took chess lessons in 1945 as a WWII army sergeant stationed in Luxemburg and soon began to gain a real feel for the game over the 65 days he spent on board a ship from Marseille bound for the Pacific theater. By August 1949 he was a member of Black Atlanta’s Butler Street YMCA’s Metropolitan Chess Club. Within a year he felt his skill level was sufficient to compete in tournaments around the South.

In 1950 he played in two Tennessee tournaments without racial incident. USCF vice president Marshall Southern of Knoxville invited Scott to play in the Southern Chess Association’s annual Championship that July, held in Durham, NC. When members at the tournament learned that a Black man was going to play, some from Georgia and Florida, led by SCA secretary Major John Broadus Holt, protested. Others, however, had no objection and called for a vote. The majority, including all of the younger players, voted in favor of Scott’s participation. Holt and the minority threatened to withdraw if Scott was permitted to play, and they prevailed upon the hotel management to bar Scott on the principle of segregation. When Scott arrived in Durham, Southern met him before the tournament and told him what was transpiring. Neither the host club nor Southern took a stand for Scott. At this point, Scott voluntarily withdrew rather than see a rift develop in the SCA. The majority of members said nonetheless that they would not have the next tournament in any city that would not accept Black participants. News of Scott’s treatment traveled nationwide and chess clubs as far away as Los Angeles sent petitions in protest to the USCF. In Georgia, however, organizers of the Georgia Open chess tournament declared it would be “limited to white Georgia citizens only,” even though integrated tournaments were being held in Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, New Orleans, and other southern cities.

While this is the most famous instance of Scott’s experience of racism in chess because it led directly to the integration of the Southern Chess Association a few years later, it would not be the only instance. Past GCA president L. Thad Rogers, who remembers the friendly and likable Scott, recalls how he took these incidents in stride. Past GCA president Steve Schneider likewise remembers that sometimes Scott would be made to play his games in separate back rooms. Sometimes white players in solidarity with Scott would also insist on playing in those rooms.

Undaunted, Scott continued to play, entering the Missouri Open and the Tennessee State Open in the following months. By the summer of 1951, the Southern Chess Association had split into two factions over the integration question. An integrated SCA championship tournament, in which Scott was invited to participate, was held in Asheville, NC, in July. A minority of members held a segregated tournament in Tampa, FL. Scott finished 11th out of 22, scoring 4-1-1. Scott also finished the rapid transit division in a three-way tie for first place, winning 6 and losing 2. After the meet, white members passed a resolution approving Scott’s participation and decrying racism in chess. Scott broke chess’s color line in the South—temporarily breaking the Southern Chess Association in the process. Because the integrationists were the larger group, younger, and included the best players, the segregationist faction soon died out.

Later that month Scott, still a class player, attended his first U. S. Open in Fort Worth, TX. The only Black person among 98 players, he finished 6-5-1. He played in many more U. S. Open tournaments including Tampa 1952, Milwaukee 1953, and Omaha 1959. He also played in the National Amateur Open in 1961, finishing 25 out of 140 and again in 1962, finishing sixth on tiebreaks out of 143. He improved his play in the next few decades through a lot of correspondence chess as well as various state and regional tournaments, including the 1955 Tennessee State Open where he placed fourth, the 1958 Florida State Open, which he won, and the 1961 Southern Open in Miami Beach.

In 1951, 19-year-old Larry Evans became the then-youngest U. S. Chess champion. A Black Atlanta chess club, the Chesslers, led by Scott, arranged to bring Evans to Atlanta to play a simul in December. This was the first time a U. S. Champion appeared in Atlanta. Playing 15 boards, Evans won 14 games and drew one—Scott’s. Evans then played a blindfold game with Scott, which was also drawn. In all, Scott brought Evans to Atlanta four times (1951, 1952, 1956, 1962) to play in Black cultural venues.

When Larry Evans came to Atlanta in 1951, Tom Wiswell came with him. Wiswell was a traveling exhibitor, self-proclaimed “world champion checker, chess, and table tennis player,” who would hold large checker/chess simuls followed by table tennis matches. As with Evans, Scott regularly invited Wiswell to Atlanta.

In April 1954, Scott invited Spanish champion Arturo Pomar to a 17-board simul at his Trojan Chess Club, based in the historic Butler Street YMCA, in which Pomar won 16 games—and drew with Scott.

In March 1961, Scott entered the Atlanta Open Chess Tournament, sponsored by the Atlanta Chess Club, and scored 4-1-1 in a field of 16. He drew with former two-time Georgia state champion D. Brad Wade. The remarkable fact, however, is that a decade after integrating the SCA, “This was Scott’s first participation in a chess tournament in Georgia. The Atlanta Chess Club in a meeting just before the start of the tournament... voted better than 2 to 1 [to] open the competition to everyone regardless of race.” Racism and exclusion had been dogging Scott in his home state since 1950. It is testament to the inclusive nature of the Atlanta Chess Association that in 1963 they elected Scott vice president. He went on to become president for three straight years, 1965–1967. As the 1960s opened up to integration, Scott also became a member of the Peachtree Chess Club.

Yet the old menace of racism returned to confront Scott and other Black players who were barred from participating in the 1962 Georgia Closed Championship chess tournament. “The failure of the Georgia Chess Association [GCA] to accept us as participants is not understandable,” Scott stated, “in light of the opening of tournaments to all for such sports as tennis, roller skating, baseball and bowling in the Greater Atlanta area.” Scott contrasted this treatment with a Tennessee Chess Association invitational in Nashville, which he turned down so that he might play in the Georgia championship. At that time, Georgia’s closed championship was not a USCF rated tournament, which meant that the organizers were not required to follow US Chess’s anti-discrimination policy. State champion L. Dave Truesdale Jr. returned to retain his title in 1962. Both he and Scott were expert-rated players, evenly matched. Scott at least had a chance to become state champion had he been allowed to play. In 1963, Georgia members voted to make the championship rated. Perhaps as a commentary on his treatment, however, there is no record of Scott playing in a Georgia Closed Championship.

In 1963 Scott won the Georgia State Open chess tournament in Columbus, scoring just behind non-Georgia resident Milan Momic, to whom he conceded a hard-fought game of 87 moves. The GCA newsletter, however, failed to mention his name in their report of the tournament. In the 1964 Georgia Open, he finished 2nd on tiebreaks. In 1964, Scott led his Trojan Chess Club to victory in the team championship sponsored by the Atlanta Chess Association. White Georgia champion D. Brad Wade played on board two. The Atlanta Kings finished second. In 1965 he won outright the Peachtree Rapid Transit Tournament. He and Truesdale tied for first in the 1967 Peachtree Open, drawing their game. In 1967, Scott was both the Atlanta Chess Club Champion and Speed Champion. In that year he was also chair of the host committee for the 68th Annual U.S. Open Chess Championship Tournament in Atlanta. Scott’s chess was probably strongest in these years. A USCF ratings list published in the February 1965 Georgia Chess Letter has Scott at 2074, just below Truesdale at 2100 and Vernon Robinson at 2078. There is no question that Scott was one of the strongest players in Georgia at the time.

Scott had been writing chess articles and press releases for his family newspaper, Atlanta Daily World. In March 1963 he initiated a monthly column, “Chess Corner,” which is our primary source for news of chess in the Black community for those years, not to mention some three dozen records of his games. Because of Scott’s lead in the coverage given to chess in Atlanta Daily World, it is possible to get some sense of how much chess activity was going on in Black Atlanta during the era of segregation—history that has been neglected by other periodicals.

Scott was not only a player and chess journalist, but a chess instructor as well, volunteering his time at various clubs. He loved to share his passion for chess with others. He often played multiple opponents in games with high school students. Sometimes he played blindfolded.Once he even played two Russian students during a dance at Morehouse College. Edward Simon Jr., son of Edward Lloyd Simon, late chair of the board of Atlanta Life Insurance Company, and of late artist Jewel W. Simon, related that his parents were friends with the Scotts and that W. A. Scott III taught him to play chess. Edward went on to join his college’s chess club and become an instructor there. Jewel Simon begin the long struggle to desegregate the Atlanta art world in the 1950s, perhaps inspired by Scott’s example of challenging the color line in 1950. One of Scott’s last public appearances was as director of a living chess exhibition in Underground Atlanta in June 1991. Georgia’s first Black state champion, George Leite played against “expert players” from the GCA and the Mid Georgia Chess League.

W. A. Scott III’s chess activity and accomplishments are notable, even without considering the currents of segregation that he was forced to swim against for many years. Yet chess was only one facet of who he was. Journalist, businessman, film critic, radio show host, Historian for the Tuskegee Airmen. Inc., he served on a number of boards. Mayor Andrew Young asked Scott to serve on the “Committee of 150 to plan the city’s 150th anniversary.

Scott had a lifelong passion for photography. When the Atlanta Arts Festival integrated in 1955, Scott participated, along with Jewel W. Simon and other Black artists. In 1991, he was included in the 1991 APEX Museum exhibition, Hidden Treasures: African-American Photographers in Atlanta, 1870-1970.

Photography would also open the door to one one of Scott’s most profound experiences with the problem of evil and human suffering while serving in WWII. In Scott’s own words: “I was a reconnaissance sergeant, photographer, camoufleur and part-time historian in S-2 (Intelligence Section) of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion. We were in the 8th Corps of General George S. Patton's 3rd Army.” The 183rd was ordered to the concentration camp Buchenwald after the Nazis had abandoned it. Scott continued: “We drove in and I said, ‘Gosh, it's not as bad as they say. It looks just like a regular prison.’” Troops had been warned about conditions. Scott added: “We have a prison in Atlanta, a federal prison. It almost looked like that federal prison when we turned into it.” However, “we drove around some buildings and I saw all these people milling around and they were in terrible shape.... I realized it was as bad. As a matter of fact, I ended up saying it was worse. And I said, ‘There's no way you could describe it’.” He began taking photographs as he confronted horror after horror that the silent survivors kept pointing out to him. He said, “I put my camera up after a while and I just stopped taking pictures.” No one could have prepared him for what he saw.

In one of the barracks he encountered a strange sight: “Some of the survivors, with their clothing torn and their body exposed, were kneeling on the ground playing chess out of some makeshift sets, and they were just oblivious almost to what was going on around them even. And I said, ‘Well, this is a fantastic game.... This can keep your mind from going off the deep end, so to speak.”

Scott respond to a request in 1979 for soldiers who had witnessed the death camps to tell their stories at Emory University. From that point on, Scott spoke to students, synagogues, and church groups about what he had seen. Governor Joe Frank Harris appointed Scott a charter member of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust in 1981, and President George H. W. Bush appointed him to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 1991.

 

Sources: 


Atlanta Daily World (19 Jul 1949 p. 2).

Atlanta Daily World (2 July 1950 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (16 Aug 1950 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (29 Nov 1950 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (3 Jan 1951 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (27 June 1951 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (8 July 1951 p. 7).

Atlanta Daily World (13 July 1952 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (24 July 1951 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (27 July 1952 p. 1).

Atlanta Daily World (19 Aug 1953 p.5).

Atlanta Daily World (28 Aug 1953 p.8).

Atlanta Daily World (19 Oct 1951 p. 7).

Atlanta Daily World (9 Dec 1951 p. 4).

Atlanta Daily World (18 Dec 1951 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (20 Apr 1954 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (4 Jan 1955 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (14 May 1955 p. 1).

Atlanta Daily World (15 May 1955 p. 1).

Atlanta Daily World (14 Feb 1961 p. 7).

Atlanta Daily World (30 Apr 1961 p. 7).

Atlanta Daily World (11 July 1961 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (2 Sept 1962 p. 8).

Atlanta Daily World (19 Feb 1963 p.1).

Atlanta Daily World (17 Mar 1963 p. 8).

Atlanta Daily World (24 Mar 1963 p. 8).

Atlanta Daily World (31 Mar 1963 p.8).

Atlanta Daily World (7 Apr 1963 p.8).

Atlanta Daily World (16 Apr 1963 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (5 May 1963 p.8).

Atlanta Daily World  (21 May 1963 p.5).

Atlanta Daily World (29 May 1963 p.5).

Atlanta Daily World (9 June 1963, p. 3).

Atlanta Daily World (23 June 1963 p.8).

Atlanta Daily World  (21 July 1963 p.8).

Atlanta Daily World (29 Oct 1963 p.7).

Atlanta Daily World (22 Dec 1963 p.5).

Atlanta Daily World (1 Jan 1964 p. 3).

Atlanta Daily World (24 Apr 1964 p. 8).

Atlanta Daily World (13 June 1991 p. 8).

Atlanta Daily World (20 Sept 1998 p. 6).

Atlanta Daily World (7 Oct 1999 p. 5).

Atlanta Daily World (7 May 2000 p. 5).

Chicago Defender 19 (Aug 1950 p. 18).

Georgia Chess Letter (Apr 1963).

Georgia Chess Letter (Oct 1963).

Georgia Chess Letter (Feb 1965).

Georgia Chess Letter (Oct 1965).

Georgia Chess Letter (Oct 1967).

Crittenden, Charles “Kit.” “My Chess Autobiography.” The North Carolina Gambit (April 2009).

Meadows, Kent. Interviews with Thad Roger and Steve Schneider. 2023. Atlanta, GA.

Solomon, Kathy. Interview with William A. Scot III. 26 Nov 1981. Emory University, Atlanta, GA.

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