Annapolis postpones bias deadline for Elks

January 15, 1991|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- The Annapolis City Council gave the Elks lodge last night eight more months to open its doors to women and minorities or lose its liquor license, stretching out even further a battle that has gone on here for nearly two years.

The extension is the latest frustration in local and statewide battles by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Coalition for Open Doors to force open the membership rolls of private clubs. In the two years since the effort began, little has changed.

Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden pressed unsuccessfully in 1989 for a measure to deny liquor licenses to clubs that discriminate, the first shot in that fight. The City Council narrowly approved a watered-down version of the bill last February, but it gave clubs until Jan. 1., 1991, to change their bylaws.

The bill passed last night, 5-2, extends that deadline to Sept. 1, benefiting mostly Annapolis Elks Lodge No. 622, which still has its males-only provision and its liquor license.

Alderman Wayne Turner, who opposed the original legislation, said last week he pushed for the extension to give the Elks more time to appeal for change in their national bylaws. Last year's deadline had passed before the local lodge could make the request, he said.

"I am not a member of the Elks or any other club that discriminates. I just believe in fair play," he said.

But Mr. Snowden, sponsor of the original bill, sees the extension as a thinly disguised effort to buy time for the Elks lodge to sell its valuable property on Rowe Boulevard and move out of the city.

He said it was highly unlikely that the national convention would approve such a change.

George Bond, grand exalted ruler of the lodge, acknowledged that lodgeofficials were considering moving but said no potential buyer for the property next to the Naval Academy stadium had surfaced.

And while the Elks haven't changed their bylaws, only modest change has come at the other three clubs most affected.

The Eastport Democratic Club eliminated the white male requirements from its bylaws last May, but over the summer it blackballed three women applicants.

The Annapolitan Club changed its membership rules but still appears to be all white and all male. Roy Land, the president, declined to "divulge our membership."

The Annapolis Yacht Club, which eliminated its racial requirements years ago but never had a black member, dropped its ban on women and inducted last summer two women and a black man, Dr. Aris T. Allen, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 1976 and a member of the House of Delegates.

Even the statewide effort by the Coalition for Open Doors for local sanctions against private clubs has floundered, conceded Stuart Comstock-Gay, head of the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed the group. He said the ACLU would push for statewide legislation to sanction private clubs that discriminate.

While "it may seem like little progress has been made, some things have changed," said Susan Goering, ACLU legal director.

Several judges resigned from clubs that discriminate, and some of those clubs now admit blacks and women. New members of those clubs say they have felt welcome.

"They have afforded me every courtesy," Dr. Allen said of the Annapolis Yacht Club.

He said members approached him when they dropped the whites-only rule but that he declined. "At the time, I thought I have my own boat, my own pier and my own friends, why should I join?" he recalled. "But I realize that many of the people I deal with in the community are in the yacht club, so I am getting into a position to get to know them in a more intimate, social setting. And I'm building bridges for the youngsters that come after me."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.