Two groups question club's racial makeup

Old South rejects letters' claims of discrimination

Anne Arundel

March 19, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Anne Arundel County NAACP are questioning the racial makeup and roles of black employees at Old South Country Club, a private southern county golf and tennis establishment with a membership that includes politicians and civic leaders.

Club officials said yesterday that allegations laid out in letters to the club last week are insulting and factually incorrect.

"I've never seen any signs that there's any discrimination whatsoever," said Mark Adams, president of the 375-member club. "All of us are very concerned about making sure we always treat people fairly."

In his letter, Gerald G. Stansbury, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Anne Arundel chapter, wrote that the club has just one African-American member.

Both letters request that the club respond with facts and figures concerning its membership, employee and board of governors makeup. The NAACP wrote that it believes African-American employees are relegated to low-ranking positions.

Adams - who said the club will respond to the letters - said yesterday that he is not aware of any African-Americans in managerial positions, although he said that does not mean the club discriminates.

He also said the club has "three or four" African-Americans among its members and that it has never turned down an African-American applicant. The club has openings and is recruiting African-American members, Adams said.

Former Secretary of the Army Clifford L. Alexander Jr., an African-American, formerly belonged to the club but said yesterday that he quit for reasons unrelated to race - he was too busy to play much golf.

Full memberships at the club are more than $20,000 a year, Adams said, though lesser memberships such as "tennis-only" begin at about $3,000 a year. Members include state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and David M. Sheehan, husband of Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Miller said his wife has sponsored an African-American member and said he has never seen signs of discrimination.

A spokeswoman for Owens, who was sent a copy of the ACLU letter, said the county executive had not yet read the letter.

Deborah A. Jeon, a managing attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said yesterday that she sent her letter after receiving a complaint and that she will await a response before taking further action.

"All I did was inquire at this point," she said. "We haven't made any kind of a long-range plan."

She would not disclose who complained to the ACLU.

Stansbury did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.

The club was built in 1990 and has been host to the Maryland State Amateur golf championship. It was thrust into the spotlight in 2000 when some politicians alleged favoritism in the transfer of 16 acres to the club by the county. Owens and William F. Chaney, who helped found Old South, are childhood friends.

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