Should McMaster be expected to quit Forest Lake CC?

You may or may not have seen this:

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Bakari Sellers asked Thursday that his Republican opponent, Henry McMaster, resign his membership at a Columbia country club that has a history of having only white members.

Sellers, who could be among the first African-Americans elected to statewide office since Reconstruction, said he made McMaster’s Forest Lake Club membership an issue because he wants to move away South Carolina from its past that includes bouts with outward racism.

“There are those who will call this a stunt. It is not,” said Sellers, a 29-year-old state representative from Denmark and son of a civil rights activist. “The truth is that this is already a campaign of contrasts, whether generational or idealistic, whether being one who believed in tomorrow or who hold steadfast to the themes of the past.”…

So is this a desperate bid for attention on the part of Rep. Sellers? Or is McMasters’ (and Kirkman Finlay’s John Courson’s) and membership in this club problematic in the 21st century?

MInd you, we’re operating without some key facts: We don’t know whether the club currently has black members. We don’t even know whether McMaster currently is a member. We know that he was in the past, and that the club was discriminatory in the past. How distant that past is, or whether, in Faulknerian terms, it is even past, remains fuzzy.

This is particularly interesting to me because — full disclosure time, for those of you who didn’t already know — I’m a member of the board of governors of the Capital City Club, which was founded specifically because other private clubs in the city did not allow, or at least did not have, black members.

After Cap City came along with its deliberate policy of seeking out members of all races and creeds, the other clubs in town were said to follow suit — although Forest Lake continued to have the reputation, fairly or not, of being slower to move on this than other clubs. (I emphasize again, I don’t know what the facts are; I just know it has had that rep. And that’s why Sellers is doing this — because of the rep.)

Finlay is quoted by The State as saying he doesn’t know whether the club has black members or not. I believe him. Although I’ll add, self-righteously, that no active member of Cap City would have to wonder about that. He or she would just have to look around, any time the club is open. The diversity is obvious.

But whether Forest Lake is exclusive or not, should that matter, in terms of Henry McMaster’s suitability for office? Is this a legitimate issue or not?

66 thoughts on “Should McMaster be expected to quit Forest Lake CC?

  1. Doug Ross

    Is Sellers made the claim without first knowing for sure that those policies are still in effect, that would be an immediate reason to reject voting for him. You can’t make that kind of charge haphazardly…

    But it would seem to be pretty simple to determine the facts.. all Henry McMaster has to say is “You’re wrong. The club has black members.” If he can’t do THAT, then he deserves to feel some heat about being a member.

    Hasn’t this come up every time McMaster has run for office?

  2. Kathryn Braun Fenner

    I think politically it makes no difference. Henry’s voters could not care less.

    I think Forest Lake might have had one black member when the top officer at Fort Jackson was black, and I am sure they have no de jure policy of discrimination, but membership is so restricted practically that blacks don’t get proposed.

  3. Dave

    Of course it’s an issue and should be an issue. If indeed McMaster is a member of a racially discriminatory country club and refuses to leave it, that’s an automatic disqualifier for holding elected office. Really, do you think a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in a state outside the South such as Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, New York, California, etc. could continue as a candidate while being a member of a whites-only country club in 2014? Of course not. Nor should they.

    1. Vivian Leese

      It should be of no concern to anyone, which Country Club McMaster belongs to. I imagine that he joined for the pleasure of his wife and children, when they were younger; for debutante balls and wedding receptions and the use of the pool. Perhaps they played golf or tennis.
      It is a Club that wives enjoy using its amenities at the pleasure of their husbands. It has been where it is for almost 100 years. Please do not toy with history, legacy and the men’s bastion that FLC is.

    1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

      Does one actually *apply* for membership?
      I have heard one inherits a membership except for a few ex officio ones like commanding officer at Fort Jackson.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, this issue is a lot easier for Sellers to bring up — zero cost to him — than it is for McMaster to answer.

    Suppose McMaster really doesn’t know whether the club has black members. He will have to ASK, thereby putting him in the position of alienating his fellow club members for putting them in an embarrassing situation. I imagine this is harder than it sounds, when you and your family are members of this social set (old Columbia establishment) and always have been. To make a thing of this, he has to push people close to him away from him. Then, if what he finds out causes him to decide to quit, then he’s in the position of seeming to judge and condemn people he’s been friends with all his life.

    And no, I’m not proposing that we all hold a moment of silence for the travails of the white bourgeoisie (or, as a friend of mine used to say with devastating irony whenever someone would make the mistake of complaining about, say, how much work it was to maintain a backyard swimming pool, “It’s tough being white!”).

    Besides, if you don’t KNOW whether your club has black members, then, well… you’re definitely not in the Cap City Club.

    What I’m saying is just, looking at it as a political maneuver, this is an easy one for Sellers, and really backs his opponent into a corner…

    1. Barry

      I don’t think so.

      I am not a big McMaster fan- but I sense a smart move would be to respond to it quickly – with something along the lines of

      “I am not sure. Someone can check with the club. I have never once went to the club and paid attention to the skin color of those around me. It’s not something I choose to focus on. I don’t seek to divide South Carolina folks on the basis of skin color as others do – and as others have done in our past. My campaign is focused 100% on moving South Carolina forward, to help make all of our residents more prosperous and healthy.

      Our club should be able to admit who they want, when they want- BUT race and/or gender shouldn’t play a part in the choice – and I have no problem making that clear to the members of our club”

      1. Doug Ross

        C’mon – that would not even hold up to the sniff test. Let me ask you – does your employer hire black people? do you need to ask? how about your church? do you have black members? or do you have to ask? What about your kids’ schools? Are they integrated or do you not know.

        McMaster absolutely knows whether there are black members or not. He would have to vote on new members, right? He would attend functions there and even without trying to know, would know whether there were black members or not.

        But the bottom line is that the people who will vote for McMaster don”t care either way. And the same can be said of those Democrats who will vote for Sellers simply because he is black. That’s the way the world works.

        1. Barry

          I don’t know if he would have to vote on members. Depends on how the club is set up. Some, I am sure, have select committees that do that sort of grunt work. Others may require the entire membership to vote.

          My church does have black members. How many? I don’t know. Never thought about it- never been asked either. I know because every Sunday I am there and see them. if I attended occasionally, I am not sure I would know. I might. I might not.

          How often is McMaster at the club? Does he attend functions regularly? Or does he attend occasionally? Is he involved in club functions? Or is he a member because it sounded good to him and rarely attends anything there? I don’t know. But it would seem to be relevant.

          and I do agree with your summary- people won’t care either way.

        1. Barry

          I would think- like any club- some members use it all the time- and others are rarely there.

          Some members could tell you everything about the club. Others probably couldn’t tell you much at all.

          That’s pretty common.

        2. Silence

          Isn’t it like $20,000 to join? Does anyone know how much it costs nowadays? Brad, Bryan, you all are the only guys I know who belong ot private clubs of this sort, what do the initiation/dues run? Are you even allowed to talk about it?

          If it is thousands to join, you can bet I’d be going to use the club!

          1. Mark Stewart

            It’s hardly the most exclusive club in the state; there are other, quieter and less local places which don’t sport the sheen that graces this one.

          2. Brad Warthen

            I have no idea. Cap City is far more reasonable than that, but then it’s a dining club — no golf course, etc. just the city’s best view, and excellent food and service.

            Cap City is particularly accessible to young people — very low dues for them. So we’re diverse in age, as well.

  5. Barry

    Is Rep Sellers a member of the Legislative Black Caucus?

    Remember when Stephen Cohen who represented a majority black district in Tennessee tried to join the Legislative Black Caucus but was told “no”?

    “Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. … It’s time to move on”. “It’s an unwritten rule. It’s understood. It’s clear.” – Rep William Lacy Clay – Legislative Black Caucus member from Missouri stating that Mr. Cohen wasn’t going to be invited to the all black group.

    Are there any homosexuals in the club at Forest Lake?

    What about transgendered folks?


    There is a reason Rep Sellers is pulling a stunt- and his concern about Forest Lake Club isn’t near the top of the list.

  6. Leon

    I would have to consider whether a person who belongs to a club that does not admit members of a different race would deserve my vote. Let me ask this, though. Is Bakari Sellers a member of the legislative Black Caucus? If so, does it admit members of a different race?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Hmmm… that’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison there. I mean, you wouldn’t expect the Republican Caucus to have Democrats in it, would you? A caucus is defined the way it’s defined.

      One of my favorites was the Shoe Caucus, which the local congressman in the Tennessee district I used to live in belonged to. There were a number of shoe factories in the district, so…

      1. Bart

        A Republican Caucus vs. a Democrat Caucus is not the same as a Black Caucus vs. a White Caucus. There are blacks in the Republican Party and would not be excluded from a Republican Caucus and the same would apply to a Democrat Caucus.

      2. Barry

        Brad- I agree with Bart.

        Your example of Republican Caucus having Democrats in it doesn’t compute.

        Of course they wouldn’t because they believe totally different things politically.

        The Legislative Black Caucus is defined by the race of it’s members. Steve Cohen- a liberal Democrat wanted to join the LBC – but was told that he was not welcome because he is white.

        1. Silence

          The LBC didn’t keep Steve Cohen out because he was white. They kept him out because he was a Jew. It’s not the same thing at all!

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Steve Cohen! Wow, that takes me back! I remember his Daddy, back when he was head of the state mental hospital in Bolivar…

            Steve represents Harold Ford’s old district. If he can keep getting elected from that district, they certainly should let him in to the black caucus…

    2. Bart

      Good point. But, if Sellers is a member of the legislative Black Caucus, considering the sensitive racial environment we live in today, would the Black Caucus be considered racist or is this an exception when applying the racism rule?

      1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

        Racist, like sexism, is when the powerful group discriminates against the weaker one.
        #NotAllMen #NotAllWhites

        1. Barry

          The KKK represents almost no one these days – but yet when they march – it’s racist – and racist behavior.

          They certainly don’t hold any power in our society (for good reason) – and represent almost no one.

          So while I understsand some not wanting to call the LBC racist for not being willing to admit a white person, it is what it is. They refused to admit a white liberal democrat for one reason – his skin color.

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      And don’t forget one of the most infamous caucuses in South Carolina history. As Cindi Scoppe reminisced in 2010 in a “20 years later” column about Lost Trust:

      Insiders recounted the deals that got worked out over high-stakes poker games in Sen. Jack Lindsay’s room at The Town House hotel. They suggested I take a look at the relationship between the Lost Trust targets and the old Fat and Ugly Caucus, which junior House members formed in 1980 to coerce lobbyists to spend money on them; the correlation was stunning, and the lunch club turned out to be one of the geneses of the sting….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, wait! The column got better after that:

        If anything happened in the next year that wasn’t related to the sting, I can’t remember it. While I dissected the ethics proposals, my editor Brad Warthen led the newsroom on a yearlong examination of how the Legislative State produced not only corruption but a hapless government that answered to no one — laying the groundwork for one of the primary focuses of our later work on this editorial board.

        Pushed along by Lost Trust, Gov. Carroll Campbell and Brad’s “Power Failure” series, the Legislature voted two years later to hand a third of the government over to the governor. Lawmakers unleashed the powerful State Grand Jury to investigate political corruption cases. They passed a reporter shield law after a judge ordered me and three other reporters held in federal custody for two days for refusing to testify in a corruption trial.

        I just love readin’ my name in the paper, Butch

      1. Silence

        Outside of a dog, The Communist Manifesto is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, the proletariat will rise up and sieze the means of production. -Karl Marx

        1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

          Nicely played.
          Have I ever told you you remind me of the Prince of Wales? Not the present Prince of Wales, but one of the old whales. And believe me, when I say whales. I know a whale when I see one.

          1. Silence

            One morning, I shot an elephant at Forest Lake Country Club. How he got into Forest Lake Country Club, I’ll never know.

  7. KP

    Sellers’ point is that Forest Lake is a symbol of exclusivity and white male privilege and there’s no arguing with that, whatever policies they write down on paper with a wink and a nod. I was encouraged to join in the early ’90s and wouldn’t have anyway, but then I learned that I couldn’t actually apply (even though I would be paying the dues) — only my husband could. That could have changed by now, but it’s beside the point.

    1. Barry

      Sellers’ on boss is a member of the club – and he doesn’t want him to resign. He doesnt’ want John Courson to resign either.

      Sellers got ahead of himself – and wasn’t thinking.

  8. Bryan Caskey

    So after Sellers shames McMaster out of the club, should we do the same to the rest of the members? Should we burn it down, scatter the ashes, and salt the grounds where it stood?

    Are we going full on Forest Lake delenda est?

    Or should we try to help the club become better with reason and persuasion, and make it into something that everyone can be proud of?

    1. Mark Stewart

      The later is always the better tack to take. Times change, and so do people, both generationally and individually.

      As with everything, I wouldn’t be surprised if the club’s members didn’t fall out in line with the 80-20 principle – and probably have for a long time.

    1. Barry

      yep – Sellers didn’t really think this one through too well.

      That’s what happens when you are only trying to make political points.

  9. clark surratt

    Good discussion. But perhaps the most difficult part about this is that the controversy will probably win more votes for McMaster than it does for Sellers.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for weighing in, Clark!

      Folks, you may recognize this name — Clark was the senior political writer at The State when I was governmental affairs editor in the late ’80s…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        How do you “show your work” on the assertion that this “will probably win more votes for McMaster than it does for Sellers?” That’s just a prediction one states based on experience. The only way to show work on it would be if someone did a poll that demonstrated it…

        1. Bryan Caskey

          I guess what I’m asking is: Why do you think this issue will be a net positive for McMaster?

          Even a poll wouldn’t be the answer to my question. The question would still be:


          1. Kathryn Braun Fenner

            Because most people who would be swayed to Sellers are already Sellers supporters, while the people who feel racial sensitivity has gone too far, or that whites are unfairly discriminated against might feel compelled to actually vote, Confederate flags waving, and will vote for McMaster

          2. Barry

            Reason 1) It focuses attention on a race that no one cares much about anyway. With McMaster having a state-wide presence, and plenty of folks thinking this issue is ludicrous anyway – it might cause folks to vote for him that otherwise wouldn’t vote at al.

            Reason 2) Sellers raising the issue doesn’t really attract voters to vote for him. Maybe a few – but not enough to matter. Sellers raising the issue is a sign of a hail marry pass – and a lot of those are intercepted by the other side.

  10. Kathryn Braun Fenner

    Sellers makes a valid point that Strom is not running to purportedly represent us all, red and yellow, black and white.

    1. Barry

      No politician represents us all. They preresent their interests first and foremost.

      Do you think Nikki Halley represents a pro choice, feminist in downtown Charleston? Probably on very few things.

      Do you think James Clyburn a member of the liberal Legislatve Black Caucus (who doesn’t admit white people even if they are liberal) would represent a rural, pro life, Washington distrusting white guy from Santee? Not even close.

      If Sellers wants to be consistent, he’d call for his own boss to not be a member of what he (Sellers) considers to be a club that won’t admit black people. If he doesn’t want to be consistent, and just wants to score political points with some folks – by all means – continue on as is.

  11. Kathryn Braun Fenner

    Where would y’all draw the line? Membership in the KKK, League of the South, Sons of Confederate Veterans (is that the right name?), Duck Dynasty Fan Club? Communist Party? Aryan Nation?

    1. Barry

      I agree with Bryan.

      I think it’s ludicrous to ask someone to resign from anything. It doesn’t even make sense to me.

      Unless someone is forcing you to vote for someone (which I doubt is the case), you have a choice to vote for them or not, correct?

      If they belong to something you find objectionable enough to matter, then don’t vote for the person. It’s as simple as that.

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