In Nashville, a Country Club’s Changing Colors

A 100-year-old golf and tennis club in Tennessee is considering letting in its first Black member. But would you want to join?

Posted: 01/12/2012 06:14 PM EST

Legendary comedian Grouch Marx once quipped, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” Today, that one-liner takes a more serious turn with a story out of Tennessee, where a country club is pondering whether or not to let in Black members.


Reports Nashville paper The Tennessean:


Nashville lawyer Waverly Crenshaw has become the third African-American recommended for full membership at Belle Meade Country Club, multiple club members have confirmed. The question now becomes whether he will be the first one actually accepted into the 110-year-old private club.


You see, applying to the club and admission to the club are two different things. Though Crenshaw’s white friend and colleague Bob Boston has already recommended Crenshaw for membership, there are currently two other African-Americans waiting to join Belle Meade. Their applications have been just sitting there for at least four years.


Circumstances are different today, however, as a federal Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability in December reprimanded a Tennessee judge for belonging to Belle Meade, which the committee called discriminatory. In the wake of the ruling, the club’s president has said it’s important for Belle Meade to improve its diversity in order to prevent high-profile members afraid of damaging their reputations from jumping ship. Essentially, Belle Meade is being forced to open up its doors to Blacks, and Crenshaw may be the first to join up. The question now is, how does Crenshaw feel about rubbing elbows with the kinds of people found in Belle Meade?


Without a doubt the members of Belle Meade are most certainly rich, powerful, famous and elite in every way. As a member there, Crenshaw, should he be accepted, will be privy to political heavyweights and heads of industry, men who could help his career and call in favors important places, like a college Crenshaw’s children would like to attend. The benefits of joining Belle Meade are great, but what are the costs?


If you believe that dignity is a real thing, that might be a cost. Would you want to be a member of a club that’s being forced by a federal ruling to accept you? Do you imagine the rest of Belle Meade’s members will treat Crenshaw kindly and with dignity, the way they treat each other? One of the awful parts about late-stage segregation is that though we’d like it to be destroyed, destroying it means there must be victims who go in before everyone else to bear the brunt of centuries of disdain. If it were a war, that person would be on the front lines, making sure it’s safe for everyone to come behind them. Whatever happens in the next few months, let’s hope Waverly Crenshaw has the strength to power through.


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