[image-1] A Charleston club that recently denied membership to a black doctor had considered changing its rules to make it harder to reject prospective members earlier this year.
The board of directors of the Charleston Rifle Club, an all-white, all-male private club in Wagener Terrace, proposed raising the number of “black balls” required to reject an applicant for membership from six to “one-third or greater of the total number of votes cast for the applicant.”
The club is said to have over 800 members.
The vote to change the club’s bylaws was set for March 5 and was publicized in at least two monthly Rifle Club newsletters obtained by the City Paper.
MUSC doctor Melvin Brown says the change, which did not pass, was proposed with his application in mind.
“Several months had transpired,” Brown told CP on Tuesday. “I said, ‘What’s going on with that application?’ and [my sponsors] said, ‘Well, we wanted to get the bylaws changed … we’ll get back to you.'”
“A couple months go by and [my sponsors] say, ‘Well, we’re done,'” he recalled. “It didn’t get changed, but they’re going forward with new memberships, so we’re back on track.”
But on Oct. 1, Brown was rejected as 13 white candidates were admitted at the same meeting. That vote was first reported by the Post & Courier last week.
Members of the club told P&C that at least 11 “no” votes were cast, almost double the six required under current rules. Had the change in membership rules passed, Brown says he doesn’t believe one-third of the approximately 60 members at his nomination meeting would have voted against him.
Emails to the club were not returned, and a club spokesperson hung up on CP when reached for comment.
Some members have signed a petition condemning Brown’s rejection.
“As a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and retired veteran naval physician, his patriotism and good moral character were never questioned or impugned by anyone during the nominating process,” reads the letter as reported by P&C. “There was no challenge to his qualifications. Instead, his application for membership was denied based on the color of his skin.”
As a private organization, the CRC is legally allowed to discriminate on the basis of race or any other criteria, but if it does, the club may not rent to outside organizations or benefit from public dollars.
The club does not admit women, regardless of race.
Andrew Savage, son of the prominent Charleston attorney by the same name, was listed on newsletters as Brown’s sponsor for admission. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the elder Savage, who doesn’t belong to the club, told CP that his son is “trying to change the policy for our friend Melvin from the inside.”
Brown says that other members of the club, many of whom are his friends, ought to do the same thing.
“The knee-jerk reaction of everyone is, ‘I’m out of the club,’ Brown said. “You can’t do that, because then that small faction wins.”
But public scrutiny after the story broke has left Brown’s supporters weighing the pros and cons of staying in.
“A lot of my friends have to think about their families and their businesses,” he said. “I’m not judging my friends either way. I don’t doubt where their hearts are.”
Local institutions including Porter-Gaud School and the College of Charleston, both of which used the club’s bowling lanes for team practice, have reportedly cut ties with CRC.
Over the weekend, the Hampton Park restaurant Harold’s Cabin temporarily changed its name to “Mel’s Cabin” in honor of Brown.