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Russell Cowans

Russell "Russ" Cowans was born on July 29, 1899, in Centre, Alabama.  His father was a farmer before moving his family to Chicago when Russ was four years old.

Russ Cowans served in World War I and later began his journalism career in Detroit in the early 1920s.  He worked for several small black newspapers in Detroit to include the Detroit Owl, and the Detroit Peoples News.  Cowans wrote several articles that were published in the Baltimore Afro-American, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Chicago Defender before becoming a correspondent for them in 1929.  He wrote a column about local Detroit news and covered sports for the Defender.  By 1933, Cowans went to work for the Detroit Tribune where he wrote a weekly column covering various local sports before leaving to become a sports editor for the Detroit Guardian.  

In 1935, Russ Cowans became Joe Louis's private tutor and personal secretary for two years.  In 1937, he returned to the Detroit Tribune where he was city editor, a sports reporter, and a special events photographer before eventually becoming the managing editor.  

Russ Cowans was appointed to the Michigan Boxing Commission in 1943 by Governor Harry Kelly and re-appointed in 1947 by Governor Kim Sigler.

In 1945, Russ was briefly married to golfer Thelma Cowans and in 1951, he began a regular golf column called "Down the Fairway" in the Chicago Defender.  By 1946, he and a group of black reporters and columnists from various publications formed the Motor City Press Club.  The purpose of the club was to allow members to socialize, hone their craft by having seasoned journalists as guest speakers, and to perform community service.  

By 1948, Russ Cowans was one of a handful of black sports journalist who traveled to London to cover the Olympics.  The next year, Cowans left Detroit to become the sports editor for the Chicago Defender.  Cowans would eventually come back to Detroit and work for the Michigan Chronicle before retiring in 1964.  In 1962, he was honored by Brewster Old Timers, Inc. for his many years of service, for his advocacy of black athletes and youth, and for his work with charities.  

Russ Cowans over the years earned the title as the "Dean of Black Sportswriters" and was called "The Sage of St. Antoine" due to his knowledge about sports.  On December 20, 1978, Russ Cowans died in Detroit. After his death, a former colleague who considered Cowans a role model for the black press stated, "...there will never be another Russell Cowans, for it was he who blazed the trail and set the standard of achievement for those who follow him." 

Sources: 

Michigan Chronicle - Friends Remember Russ. October 21, 1978 - page A1 & A4

Michigan Chronicle - Russell Cowans, Noted Journalist, Mourned. December 30, 1978 - page A1 & A4

Thelma Cowans

Thelma Louis Simmons was born in Georgia in 1912, and moved with her family to Detroit in 1922.  While a student at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, she and her younger sister Theresa, helped organize golf teams for women at black colleges.  The sisters, who were close, started playing golf at the same time and would often battle each other with one usually winning by a stroke or two.  

It was said little sister Theresa's drives and irons were clean and straight with her easily driving 215 yards.  Thelma's long game was not as strong as her sister's, but she seldomly missed a putt.

Theresa took the bachelor's degree she earned in business and during World War II, worked as a clerk at the Pentagon.  At the end of the war she moved to New York where she taught physical education.  In 1947, Theresa returned to Detroit and opened a restaurant, Theresa's BBQ.  The restaurant was open for about 26 years before it closed in 1973 due to a fire. 

In 1945, Thelma was briefly married to Detroit sports columnist Russell Cowans and later moved to Los Angeles in 1948.  She frequently played golf with boxer Joe Louis who was an avid golfer.

 

Big sister Thelma became a pioneering black professional golfer.  She won the United Golfer's Association national championship five times, in 1947, 1949, 1954, 1955, and 1956. Thelma was denied membership into the Ladies Professional Golfer's Association in 1951 because of her race.  She refused to let that stop her.  She became the first black to play in the George S. May and Tam O'Shanter tournaments in Chicago.

Thelma Cowans became a member of the Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame in Detroit and the United Golfer's Association Hall of Fame.  She was a founding member of the Detroit Amateur Golf Club.

Thelma Cowans - pictured far left, sister Theresa Howell seated.

Sources: 

Detroit Free Press - Sisters Continue Golf War. August 23, 1967 - page 1B

Detroit Free Press - Thelma Cowans, 5-time golf champion. February 7, 1990 - page 4B

Detroit Free Press - Theresa Simmons Howell: Trailblazing black woman. November 3, 2000 - page 3B

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