The black director of a regional community assistance program has come to the defense of the Turf Valley Country Club, which he says has been the unfair target of a racial controversy being kept alive by the Howard County branch of the NAACP.
The Rev. Roland Howard, director of the Regional Action Planning Program, said he is encouraging the NAACP to meet with Turf Valley owner Nicholas B. Mangione to settle their differences. The two sides have been at odds since a Turf Valley manager left racist remarks on the telephone answering machine of a local NAACP member in 1988.
The NAACP last week insisted that Mangione has not kept promises to amend racial problems at the club.
Howard, whose group offers assistance and mediation in community problems in Baltimore and four counties, said he believes the NAACP's actions have fueled the fire.
"So far, all I've seen (the NAACP) do is broaden the disagreement," said Howard. "They need to allow some other organization to become involved."
Elhart Flurry, president of the Howard County NAACP chapter, said he has no plan for such a meeting with Mangione, however. The local NAACP, he said, is "not looking to deal with the issue anymore."
Community sentiment against Turf Valley has surfaced periodically since the 1988 incident, most recently with the cancellation of the Oakland Mills High School prom, which had been scheduled at the club next spring.
The cancellation prompted Mangione to send an open letter to community leaders, stating that his good-faith efforts to deal with racial concerns were leading him nowhere but to further censure.
"If people want to go back (to Turf Valley), then fine. If they don't want to go back, fine. Just don't bring the NAACP into it," Flurry said.
Mangione could not be reached for comment. But Howard said Mangione was "thrilled" at the idea of a mediated meeting with the NAACP when the two men discussed the possibility in a telephone call Thursday night.
"It's been three years and this stuff is still surfacing," said Howard, who is pastor of the Banneker Christ Community Church in Columbia. "It's time to say that the NAACP doesn't seem to be able to handle this alone."
In a written statement earlier this month, the local NAACP said Turf Valley has not adequately addressed three recommendations made by community members after the 1988 incident. The recommendations included firing of the manager who made the racist remark, offering employee sensitivity training at the club, and giving NAACP officials access to the club's hiring records.
Although NAACP officials maintained in their written statement that those three recommendations have been largely ignored, Mangione contends he's lived up to his end of the deal.
Howard said he decided to get involved due to the recurring tension between the two organizations.
The county Human Rights Commission, which investigated Turf Valley after the 1988 incident, found no indications of racial problems in the organization, a fact that Howard said needs to be addressed.
Also, Howard said he has heard no other complaints from ethnic groups about Turf Valley. His nephew, Elwood Blackstone of Baltimore, had his wedding reception at Turf Valley in August, even though he said many of his friends warned him against it.
"I had a lot of people tell me to go someplace else, even some people said 'Don't go to Howard County, they don't like blacks out there,' " said Blackstone.
"It was a very rich and elegant affair," he said. "No one came out of there thinking they were treated with anything but respect."
But many black students at Oakland Mills "still feel very uncomfortable" about the 1988 incident, and white students have been supportive of their fellow students' concerns, said Kerry Hough, a student delegate from Oakland Mills.
Hough said many students are not sure whether Turf Valley has made any effort to comply with racial sensitivity suggestions from community leaders.
"There's not a lot of information available to us," Hough said. "A lot of the concern is brought on by parents, and from students who just seem very uncomfortable. We know apologies have been made, but we also know that it's hard to change overnight."
Hough said some students have flatly declared that they "never want to go back" to Turf Valley as a result of the severity of the racial incident.
The comments in February 1988 were made by Frederick Grimmel, the club's manager and Mangione's nephew.
Grimmel, who resigned following public outcry from the incident, was re-hired by Mangione two months later after an apology and a meeting with NAACP members. At that time, NAACP officials did not protest the re-hiring.
In an interview two weeks ago, Mangione said he has gone out of his way to be accommodating to minority groups seeking to become club members or to use the banquet facilities. Recently, a group of Koreans complained of racist treatment when they were quoted the price of club membership, Mangione said.
"What happened before was on their minds. I kept telling them the problems had been cleared up," said Mangione. He said he resolved the issue by giving the group a discount rate.
"Everyone knows what happened, but few people seem to want to know what I've done since," Mangione said.