Ashleigh Wilson, 31, is the Columbia, S.C., club’s first black member in its 90-year history. The club has been the recipient of negative publicity for not having any African-American members, including in January when Governor Henry McMaster refused to give up his membership to the then-whites-only club.
After years of sporadic controversy over its 90-year history of whites-only segregation, Forest Lake Country Club in Columbia, S.C., has admitted its first African-American member, the Columbia-based State reported.
The history-making new member is Ashleigh Wilson, 31, who is based in Columbia with a national law firm, Bowman and Brooke, the State reported.
“I’m very pleased to be a member of the Forest Lake Club,” she said. “I enjoy playing tennis and its other amenities and have many friends at Forest Lake. I’ve been welcomed warmly there.”
Over the years, the club, famous for keeping a low profile, has been the recipient of successive waves of negative publicity for not having any African-American members. The most recent came in January when Democrats and others criticized Governor Henry McMaster for belonging to a whites-only club. McMaster said he would not give up his club membership, the State reported.
In 2014, when McMaster ran for the lieutenant governor’s post, Democratic opponent Bakari Sellers made McMaster’s membership in the club a campaign issue and unsuccessfully challenged McMaster to quit the club, the State reported.
“Here we are, 53 years after the civil rights bill was passed, and this institution has finally caught up with history,” said Bobby Donaldson, associate professor of history and director of the center for civil rights history and research at the University of South Carolina. “It’s been an ongoing struggle to try to crack the doors of this private club.
“The timing could not be more ironic, as we see a resurgence of and identification with white supremacist rhetoric across the country,” Donaldson said. “We are reminded that although you have had these significant civil rights milestones, there is still a culture and strong sentiment that we have to constantly fight against.
“Maybe Forest Lake Country Club can help lead the way in the ongoing struggle,” Donaldson said.
“As a private club, we have a limited number of members,” said club President George Gibbes when questioned by a reporter. “We do not release or publish their names, but our membership is a diverse group of business and professional leaders, from government and the private sector.
“We do not discriminate by race, religion or creed,” Gibbes said. “New members are sponsored by existing members, and once new members have been approved by the Membership Committee, they are placed on a waiting list until vacancies occur.
“While respecting the privacy of our club, we can say we have members of various religious and ethnic groups. African-American families have been approved for membership and existing members have offered to sponsor others,” Gibbes said.
Wilson’s admission is “a turn of the page of history,” Donaldson said. Asked if he meant that in a good way, Donaldson replied, “We shall see. Having a member of the club does not change the culture, necessarily.”