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If you're a black American, you can run for president, die for your country, marry a white person and adopt a white child, sign a multi-million dollar pro sports contract, or become a Supreme Court justice.
But become a member of Little Rock's two most exclusive country clubs? Good luck—at least until now.
Racial issues slumbered away on the manicured golf courses of the Country Club of Little Rock and Pleasant Valley Country Club until a few months ago, when part-time governor and full-time presidential candidate Bill Clinton was photographed playing a round of golf at CCLR with Little Rock lawyer Mark Grobmyer. The national press, in particular The New York Times, quickly seized on the club's all-white membership list, typecasting it as a bastion of Old South mores, and Clinton was excoriated by state and national black leaders for setting foot in the place.
Two months later, you still won't find a black member at either the Country Club or Pleasant Valley—though, as members are quick to point out, black guests play tennis and golf, attend functions, and dine at both clubs frequently.
As private clubs, CCLR and Pleasant Valley are free to admit whomever they choose. All-white golf clubs around the country were spurred to change since 1990, after the outcry surrounding the discovery that Shoal Creek Country in Birmingham, the site of that year's PGA Open, had no black members. Successful lawsuits have been brought against some exclusive clubs where million-dollar business deals are cemented over 18 holes and drinks in the clubhouse. For blacks in Little Rock, exclusion from the top two country clubs has been one of the invisible barriers to full membership in the city's professional and business community.
Ironically, efforts are underway at both clubs to recruit black members. The drive to bring in the first black at the CCLR started more than a year ago—long before the most recent media over the club' s membership policies. According to several current members—none of whom would speak for attribution—members Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Bill Bowen, Clinton's stateside chief of staff, are in the process of sponsoring a local black man for membership. Hussman and Bowen, along with current club president Jack Williams, declined to comment, but the application of Curt "Howard" Reed, a local economic consultant with offices in the Stephens Building, is said to have been "accepted for consideration" by the club's Admission Committee. Reed was away from his office and did not return telephone messages for this story.
Two sponsors are required for an application, according to a summary of CCLR bylaws included in the club's membership roster. Each application is then considered by an admissions committee made up of the club board members. Once the applicant is approved by the committee, his or her name is posted on the club bulletin board "so that members may have an opportunity to comment on such application." Membership is limited to 500 "active" members, so even after approval, new members may have to wait for a spot to come open. The initiation fee ranges from $20,000 to $25,000 for different categories of membership. There's a lower charge, for example for "junior"
memberships and out-of-town club members. Monthly dues range from $100 — $200. Members report that the application process is somewhat cloudy.
"First you have to get your application considered," one longtime member explains. "Most people don't make it that far. Then you go onto a list. The application may move off that list, it may stay there forever, or it may just drop quietly off after some period of time."
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