My remarks to the Capital City Club

You may have read Clif LeBlanc’s story today about the Capital City Club’s 20th anniversary, and why that’s of some importance to our community.

As, in Hunter Howard’s words, "the unofficial chairman of the ‘Breakfast Club’" — and yes, I eat there most mornings, as Doug can attest from having been my guest — I was asked to comment on what I thought the club meant to the community. That meant showing up at 7:30 this morning (WAY before my usual time) to address the rather large crowd gathered there to mark the anniversary.

Some folks asked for copies of my remarks. In keeping with my standard policy of not wanting to spend time writing anything that doesn’t get shared with readers, I reproduce the speech below:

    So much has been said here this morning, but I suppose as usual it falls to the newspaper guy to bring the bad news:
    The Capital City Club is an exclusive club. By the very nature of being a club, of being a private entity, it is exclusive.
    There are those who are members, and those who are not. And even if you are a member, there are expectations that you meet certain standards. Just try being seated in the dining room without a jacket. And folks, in a country in which a recent poll found that only 6 percent of American men still wear a tie to work every day, a standard like that is pretty exclusive.
    But it is the glory of the Capital City Club that it changed, and changed for the better, what the word “exclusive” meant in Columbia, South Carolina.
    Once upon a time — and not all that long ago — “exclusive” had another meaning. It was a meaning that in one sense was fuzzy and ill-defined, but the net effect of that meaning was stark and obvious. And it was a meaning by no means confined to Columbia or to South Carolina.
    Its effect was that private clubs — the kinds of private clubs that were the gathering places for people who ran things, or decided how things would be run — did not have black members, or Jewish members, or women as members. Not that the clubs necessarily had any rules defining that sense of “exclusive.” It was as often as not what was called a “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” which was the title of a 1947 film about the phenomenon.
    Forty years after that film was released, good people in Columbia were distressed to look around them and see the effects of such agreements in our community. A black executive originally from Orangeburg, who thought he was going home when his company sent him here, was unable to do his job because he could not get into a private club. It was noticed that for the first time in recent history, a commanding general at Fort Jackson was not extended a courtesy membership by a local club. He was Jewish. More and more such facts were reported in the pages of The Columbia Record in the mid-’80s. The clips I’ve read were written by my colleague Clif LeBlanc, who is here this morning.
    These stories mostly ran before I came home to South Carolina to work at The State in April 1987, so I can claim no credit for them.
    As editorial page editor of The State, I can tell you that the unstated policies of private clubs are an unusual, and even uncomfortable, topic for journalists. The reason we write about government and politics so much is that we feel completely entitled and empowered to hold them fully accountable, and we have no problem saying they must do this, or they must not do that. But whether a private club votes to admit a particular private citizen or not is something else altogether. You can’t pass a state law or a local ordinance to address the problem, not in a country that enshrines freedom of association in its constitution. (I hope the attorneys present will back me up on that — we seem to have several in attendance.)
    But the Record did everything a newspaper could and should do — it shone a light on the problem. What happened next depended upon the private consciences of individuals.
     A group of such individuals decided that the only thing to do was to change the dynamic, by starting a new kind of club. One of those individuals was my predecessor at the newspaper, Tom McLean, who would be known to that new club as member number 13.
    I spoke to Tom just yesterday about what happened 20 years ago, and Tom was still Tom. He didn’t want anybody setting him up as some sort of plaster saint, or hero, or revolutionary.
    He wanted to make sure that he was not portrayed as some sort of crusader against the existing private clubs at the time. As he noted, he and other founders were members of some of those clubs.
    What he and the other founders did oppose — and he said this more than once, and I notice the statement made its way into Clif’s story this morning — was, and I quote:
    “Arbitrary, categorical exclusion based on race, religion or gender.”
    Yes, there was a moral imperative involved, but it was also common sense. It was also a matter of that hallowed value of the private club, personal preference. Tom, and Carl Brazell, and Shelvie Belser, and I.S. Leevy Johnson and Don Fowler and the rest all chose to be members of a club that did not practice the kind of arbitrary exclusion that they abhorred.
    And here’s the wonderful thing about that, what Tom wanted to make sure I understood was the main thing: By making this private, personal decision for themselves, they changed their community.
    Once one club became inclusive, other clubs quickly followed suit. Something that no law could have accomplished happened with amazing rapidity.
    The measure of the Capital City Club’s success is that the thing that initially set it apart became the norm.
    I’m like Tom in that I’m not here to say anything against those other clubs today, now that they are also inclusive. But the reason I was asked to speak to you this morning was to share with you the reason that if I’m going to belong to a club, this one will always be my choice:
    It’s the club that exists for the purpose of being inclusive, the club that changed our community for the better.
    I’m proud to be a member of the first club to look like South Carolina — like an unusually well dressed South Carolina, but South Carolina nevertheless.

What a written speech doesn’t communicate is my efforts to punch up the recurring joke about the club’s dress code, such as my lame attempt to do the David Letterman shtick where he pulls on his lapels to make his tie wiggle. I did that when citing the Gallup poll. Then, on that last line, I looked around at the assembled audience, which was VERY well dressed. It was a way of saying, "Don’t y’all look nice," while at the same time gently teasing them about it.

After all, those of you who are in the 94 percent who have put the anachronistic practice of wearing neckties behind you probably think the whole thing is pretty silly — a bunch of suits getting together to congratulate themselves on how broadminded they are.

But you’re wrong to think that, because of the following: Such clubs exist. They existed in the past, and they will exist in the future. People who exercise political and economic power in the community gather there to make decisions. They have in the past, and will in the future. Until the Capital City Club came into being, blacks and Jews and women were not admitted to those gatherings. Now, thanks to what my former boss Tom and the others did, they are — at Cap City, and at other such clubs.

And that’s important.

18 thoughts on “My remarks to the Capital City Club

  1. Mike Cakora

    When we moved here in 1996 I was surprised to learn that country clubs still prohibited blacks and Jews from membership. Some still do, but do allow them as guests. That’s mighty, er, bright of them and has reinforced my decision to remain a Groucho Marxist .

  2. george32

    It’s nice that more people of a higher educational, income and possibly fashion level than most of us are now allowed to be behind the closed doors where decisions are being made. How wonderfully transparent and democratic. Obviously the State is very much part of the local “establishment”, but don’t you think that as a leading executive of that institution you might want to eat more of your breakfasts in locations where you might encounter struggling single mothers-probably as workers, not eaters, students and new graduates buried in debt, homeowners with mortgage issues, workers with health care/insurance problems, seniors dealing with inflation, etc.

  3. bud

    I guess this is progress of sorts. Still I have to ask, how many pizza delivery guys, sanitation workers, janitors, convience store clerks or other working class people had a chance to hear your speech? They can’t even afford a $40 silk tie.

  4. Lee Muller

    Meanwhile, The State fails reports huge government spending increases as “cutbacks”.
    There is no state budget.
    There is a spending plan, to spend every cent that comes in.
    For 4 years, the economy was so good that the state took in over $3 TRILLION in extra, unexpected revenue. In 2006, the surplus was 16% extra. They blew every cent of it, instead of paying of bonds and other debt. Then they increased the “budget” by the amount of the extra revenue, so they could stop talking about “spending the surplus”.
    Now the revenue is not increasing as fast, so they call a reduced increase in spending a “drastic cut”. And it is only $118 MILLION out of $7,000 MILLION, or 1.7%.

  5. george32

    I guess we are on a different thread.
    The GOP has had control of the state for 18 of the last 22 years in SC. Great job, huh-gotta love the Hunley boondoggle. They are following the national example: the US budget surplus in Clinton’s last full year was over 230 billion. Bush has led an increase of the deficit even faster than Reagan!! No wonder they might want Sanford for VP.

  6. Lee Muller

    According to the Dept of Treasury, Clinton only ran a surplus for one day, leaving us with over $1.3 TRILLION in new debt.
    And he did this on top of spending a huge tax increase on working people.
    Clinton did cut some of the taxes for investment bankers and venture capitalists in half, to 14%, which was a good thing. Too bad the rest of us didn’t get our taxes cut.

  7. J. Dally

    I am sure Editor Bradley blames our Governor for our budget deficit. Surely by oversight, Editor Bradley makes no mention of our Governor’s long time, persistent warnings, advice, vetos on “pork” legislation,etc. What Editor Bradley knows is that the money is there! Aha! You see the Governor is hiding it from the Legislature to prevent the Legislature from using the money to “fully fund” public education. In Editor Bradley’s defense, I believe we can count on him to “spill the beans” on our Governor as soon as Editor Bradley’s staff determines and confirms what “fully funded” means in terms of U.S. denominated currency. Once released, Speaker Harrell, experiencing the full force of The State’s editorial muscle and prescience, will forgo attaching unconsitutional amendments to spending bills and commence immediately developing and shepherding balanced budgets thru our Leisure lature. Roll calls will no longer be the “spirited” 5 p.m. gatherings of the Legislative Boys Club. Happy Days are Here Again!

  8. Karen McLeod

    Has the Capitol Club considered leading the way in this era of global warming, by instituting dress codes that make sense for the weather involved, and which allow the thermostats to be set at more energy saving temperatures. Summer dress might consist of dress shorts and tees. If that goes too far–well at least lose the coat and tie; you have to set the temperature in the 60’s when men wear those. In the winter, you can have those clothes back if you must, but handsome sweaters and scarves might do better, and that time of year, women should certainly go for pants suits. Then set the thermostat in the 60’s.

  9. p.m.

    Is the Capital City Club inclusive of those lacking capital?
    Obviously so. Mr. Warthen hobnobs there, and he can’t buy the TV he wants because his health insurance isn’t inclusive enough.
    Still, I tremble a bit att the concept of something called a club being inclusive. Every “city club” I’ve been subject to has been anything BUT inclusive.

  10. John

    By its very nature, a private club exists to EXCLUDE people it deems undesirble. In this case, undesirable means people that are not part of the social elite in Columbia.
    Karen- Would you also force the members to wear overcoats to the table in the winter?

  11. Lee Muller

    maybe your dream government could issue uniforms to everyone, so no one could have a nice suit of clothes, to prevent any reward for achievement and hard work.

  12. Karen McLeod

    Who said anything about government?? This is a private club; one that chose to lead the way in allowing a diverse membership. Since the people there are among the ‘movers and shakers’ of Columbia, it would certainly be forward thinking of them to adapt their clothing to the weather, rather than running the thermostat at 68 in the summer and 74 in the winter. Personally, I’m sick and tired of having to dress too warmly to be reasonable comfortable outside in the summer in order to be able to withstand the chill of the great indoors, and of not daring to layer clothing as I would like in winter because if I do I’ll roast inside. Do you guys like those ties THAT much?

  13. Lee Mulle

    Sorry, Karen, I thought your solution to everything was to have government agents force behavior at gunpoint, from not using tobacco, to seat belts, vehicle types and miles per gallon, mandatory attendance at GovCo schools, etc.

  14. Brad Warthen

    I’m guessing that the "Joe Publicus" who sent me this e-mail over the weekend was responding to this subject, so I post his remarks here:

    Hope you consider this as interested criticism.


    Gads! What a threat to social liberty an old white boys private sports club is to ordered government in Columbia!

    We citizens are so lucky to have this blight of Europe social exclusivity displayed in the state newspaper.

    And to have it followed by woeful, bloody shirt tales and breast beating by the obligatory chorus of self hating whites.

    Yes, Sir: Mr. Warthen, et al. gotten some serious street cred from afro journalists, bolton and pits, for their fearless confrontation of those nasty Europe whites who manifest relentlessly a distrust of the African slave descendants, their useful idiots and fellow travelers.

    Let us hope that city, state and government employees who are paid out of taxpayer revenues to serve the public will and community interest as sworn duty, will not let their memberships in the Black Association of Police Chiefs,

    Black Social Workers, Black Principals, Black Middle School Teachers, Black Trial Lawyers, Black Journalists, Black Judges, Black University Faculty and Black National Association of Colored People

    Interfere with serving ALL of South Carolina Citizens, and not let their MEMBERSHIPS IN RACE EXCLUSIVE organizations interfere with their constant serving of only the common public good.

    Sir: To the issue of a Double Standard:

    Should public employees be allowed to have a membership in any organization dedicated to serving the special interests of a special racial, ethnic, gender group? Should not they be fired for conflict of interest?

    As for example, Like the Legislative Black Caucus will not allow a White Caucasian elected member be part of their race exclusive club.

    Maybe the state, or bolton or warthen might check on the racial discrimination of the government employees in management positions by the racial association memberships of those public employees.

    Or would that be leveling the playing field, in a way marxists revolutionaries just cannot accept?

    Hopefully, Look forward to insightful articles on the racial exclusive professional black social clubs and their impact on city, county and state government in south carolina.

    Might even get one of those awards newspapers give to real reporting.

    Thank you.

    At least, I’m GUESSING this is what he was on about…

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