WILMINGTON, N.C. — Two years after the construction of the Cape Fear Country Club, Wilmington suffered the infamous race riot/massacre of 1898. Recently, over a century later, Attorney Peter Grear refused to attend an event held there by the New Hanover County Bar Association and met with a country club board member about the “history of racial exclusion and exploitation” at the root of his objection. He also wrote bar association President Alex Dale, explaining his position and requesting that it be shared with other bar members. The event was co-sponsored by the bar association and the New Hanover-Pender Medical Society.
Prior to the meeting, Attorney Grear appeared on WAAV radio with Rhonda Bellamy. Noting that the Doctrine of Exclusion was adopted in the 1600s to ensure that blacks in America would exist only to serve whites, he says one avenue of manifestation is the existence of racially exclusive clubs. Callers represented those in agreement and disagreement with Grear’s position, but he maintained that his objection was that the meeting would be held at a place where he would be excluded from membership because of his race.
Later, he added that as a matter of ethics, attorneys and judges should not even be members of the club or it’s sister entity, The Cape Fear Club. He had taken this issue up with the Bar Association 15-20 years ago, with no response. Although he has addressed the country club previously, this is the first time he has gotten a response.
That response came through Wilmington attorney and CFCC board member, Ryal Tayloe. (On Friday, May 29, 2009 they had lunch at the Wilmington, Hilton where they discussed the issue.) Tayloe and Grear both felt that the meeting went well. Tayloe decided to reserve most comments since he had yet to report back to the country club board. He did state, however, that as an individual, he would have a problem with an attorney having membership in a racially exclusive club that is intentionally discriminatory. He clarified that CFCC is not intentionally discriminatory, that in fact, the opposite is true.
According to a job posting on nctennis.com Cape Fear Country Club has a membership of well over 900. Grear asserts that one black (honorary) membership was created to divert attention from their intention to remain segregated in practice. Attorney Tayloe explained that the reason for this reality is “complicated, … some of it has to do with the black community having shown no interest in becoming members.”
Grear counters that hostility shown by club members and their secret membership practices prevent blacks from seeking membership.
Reggie Shuford, a New York-based civil rights attorney who was born and raised in Wilmington and was the first black graduate of Cape Fear Academy feels very invested in Wilmington’s progress.
“Having left Wilmington some 25 years ago, I am not as intimately familiar as others might be with any recent practices of racial exclusion by the Cape Fear Country Club, but I am most certainly aware of its past history … Racial exclusion, either intentional or complicit, has no place in a civilized society, and I applaud Attorney Grear for raising this issue. I would hope that, at a minimum, in an age where America has elected its first African-American president and in a state that helped him become elected, residents of New Hanover County will use this as an opportunity to begin a dialogue about the state of race relations in Wilmington.”
Race relations is a continuing theme in local and national arenas. As federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor is awaiting confirmation as the first Latina appointed to the Supreme Court, Senate Republican Mitch McConnel and others have made issue of one’s “ability to apply the law evenly despite their own feelings or personal political preference.” If membership in racially exclusive clubs is any indication of such, what affect does that membership have on the judges, lawyers, doctors, and teachers and the environment they create for the citizens and communities they serve?
Some residents feel the environment in Wilmington must at least keep pace with a changing world scene. Others remain focused on historical traditions of yesterday.
Some local attorneys had no knowledge of these events, while others refused to comment. According to his assistant, Attorney Dale is out of the office until next week.