Three years after a racial epithet by the manager of Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City sparked an uproar, 18 black leaders in Howard County called a news conference last night to say the private club had improved race relations.
County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray and black leaders representing fraternities, sororities and business organizations issued a press release at the club saying the Feb. 23, 1988, incident was "both intolerable and reprehensible."
"But, it is significant that a positive working relationship and cooperative measures have resulted from it," they went on to say.
But noticeably absent were representatives of the Howard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They had participated in early discussions with Nicholas Mangione Sr., the club's owner, but did not sign the agreement.
The Rev. Bowyer Freeman, president of the local NAACP, said, "The country club is not on our agenda, and we are not making any statements concerning the patronage of Turf Valley. We should be concentrating on issues such as passage of a national civil rights bill, the negative indexes for African-American children in the schools and issues surrounding low- and moderate-income housing.
"We have people rioting in the streets in Washington and people hurting in the region and some people are worried about a country club," Mr. Freeman said.
The controversy stemmed from Frederick Grimmel's reference to a black community leader with a racial epithet in comments recorded on the black caller's telephone recording machine. That led to an outcry from both black and white community leaders in Howard County and a boycott of the club.
In the company of a federal conciliation specialist, the Rev. John L. Wright, a county civil rights leader, signed a cooperation agreement March 17, 1988, with Mr. Mangione. The club's owner said he would continue his company's affirmative-action efforts and conduct sensitivity workshops, and Mr. Wright said he would recommend that the black coalition suspend the boycott.
The issue flared up again last November when a Columbia high school canceled its prom at the country club, citing concerns about the club's sensitivity to minorities. That followed a breakdown of talks between local NAACP officials and Mr. Mangione, who said last night that "these people never communicated with the African-American community" about steps he had taken to address concerns about the club.
William Parham, president of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, said he believed "the African-American community can patronize the Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club without fear of discrimination or humiliation."