Philadelphia Private Swim Club Forces Out Black Children

Not only do certain private clubs still refuse to admit African-Americans, women, and gay people, but this kind of enrollment discrimination is considered perfectly legal.
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Update: The public email and phone number for The Valley Swim Club is 215-947-0700 and The President of the club is John Duesler.

Updated July 9: The Michael Smerconish Program interviewed an eyewitness named "Jan," who is a member of The Valley Swim Club. Jan says the children from The Creative Steps Day Camp were very well-behaved, and the camp supervisors were highly attentive. This puts a dent in the argument that, perhaps, the children were behaving in an overly rowdy fashion, which is why they were ejected.

NBC reports that more than 60 African-American campers from Northeast Philadelphia were turned away from a private swim club because -- according to John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club -- "there was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion ... and the atmosphere of the club."

It may surprise some Americans to learn that not only do certain private clubs still refuse to admit African-Americans, women, and gay people, but that this kind of enrollment discrimination is considered perfectly legal.

While the total number of private clubs is unknown, there are around at least 4,000 private golf clubs, according to Golf Digest. Of course, since these clubs are private, their exact enrollment standards aren't part of the public record, so there is no way to know for sure if they discriminate against ethnic minorities, women, or homosexuals. Furthermore, even if they do adopt official "white males only" policies, these practices are considered "legal" in some jurisdictions, though many clubs have been sued for discrimination.

Because of the shroud of secrecy surrounding enrollment at private clubs, these discriminatory practices usually only come to light when the media catches a prominent politician on the fairway. Katon Dawson, South Carolina GOP chairman and former candidate for the RNC chair, was forced to resign from the Forest Lake Club after members made public the fact that the club has a whites-only restriction and no black members. Then there was Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who hosted a golf fundraiser at a whites-only club back in 2000 along with then-lawmakers Bob Ney and Tom DeLay.

Back in 1992, Bill Clinton was accused of attending an all-white private golf club, though Mark Grobmeyer, the Little Rock lawyer who played at the club with Clinton, denied there was a "no blacks" policy. Why were there no black players then? Mr. Grobmeyer replied, "None have applied."

President Kennedy was once challenged by future Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, over his membership at the Links Country Club because the club excluded Jews from membership. President Kennedy reportedly chuckled and replied, "Hell, Arthur, they don't even allow Catholics."

This recent case of discrimination at the Philadelphia club is merely a continuation of discriminatory admission standards. Such official bans on non-Anglo Saxon men may seem superfluous considering outrageous membership fees are usually enough deterrence to keep non-white people off the golf courses and out of the pools, but when The Creative Steps Day Camp managed to pay the $1900 for their young campers to enter The Valley Swim Club, the staff resorted to drastic measures.

"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."

Remarks like that make it difficult to remember that it's 2009. According to attorney Benjamin Leedy, another shameful episode occurred a little over a decade ago when Hall Thompson, founder of the all-white Shoal Creek club in Birmingham, AL (site of the 1990 PGA Championship,) declared that his club would not be pressured into accepting African-American members. "This is our home, and we pick and choose who we want," he said.

Leedy cites another recent example in 2003 at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, where Martha Burke, head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, demanded that the club allow women to become members. Hootie Johnson chairman of Augusta National, responded "There may well come a day when women will be invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet."

In 2001, Birgit Koebke and Kendall French, a lesbian couple registered as domestic partners under the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003, sued Bernardo Heights Country Club alleging that the club discriminated against them on the basis of sexual orientation. The club's membership privileges were only available to members' spouses and children, but not to members' domestic partners. In 2005, the California Supreme Court concluded "that since, under California law, registered domestic partners have rights equivalent to legal spouses, the question of whether the club's practice of granting playing privileges to members' spouses but not to members' registered domestic partners constituted unlawful discrimination under California's anti-discrimination law must be left to a jury decide."

This most recent case of discrimination in Philadelphia is particularly sinister because it involves banishing children. "I heard this lady, she was like, 'Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?' She's like, 'I'm scared they might do something to my child,'" said camper Dymire Baylor.

What a terrible lesson to teach two children -- one white and one black. The white child learns to fear those who are different from them. The black child learns there is something "wrong" and "dirty" about their very existence. Hopefully, another more enlightened swim club will welcome the campers from The Creative Steps Day Camp, who are now looking for a place to keep cool during the summer.

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.

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