Whites-Only No More: South Carolina Country Club Finally Admits African-American Member

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Ashleigh Wilson is a lawyer with Bowman and Brooke, LLP in Columbia, S.C. (Photo courtesy of The State)

South Carolina’s Forest Lake Country Club is whites-only no longer after finally admitting its first African-American member, sources familiar with the matter announced Friday, Aug. 18.

Columbia resident Ashleigh Wilson, a 31-year-old lawyer with national law firm Bowman and Brooke, is the club’s history-making new member, bringing an end to its over 90-year-history of being a whites-only establishment, according to The State. Wilson said she is “pleased” to now be part of the Forest Lake family.

“I enjoy playing tennis and its other amenities, and have many friends at Forest Lake,” she said in a brief statement. “I’ve been welcomed warmly there.”

In years past, the club has faced sporadic backlash over its failure to accept or even extend membership opportunities to African-Americans. The most recent controversy came earlier this year when Democrats urged then-Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) to end his membership at the private club before replacing Gov. Nikki Haley. McMaster didn’t budge, however.

The governor also declined to give up his 30-year membership in 2014 when he ran against former Democratic state legislator and CNN commentator Bakari Sellers for the lieutenant governor seat. Sellers brought up McMaster’s membership at the exclusionary country club as an issue during the campaign but to no avail.

Forest Lake president George Gibbes issued a statement Friday, saying the private club has a limited number of members, but that its membership includes “a diverse group of business and professional leaders.”

“We do not discriminate by race, religion or creed. 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,” Gibbes explained.

“While respecting the privacy of our Club, we can say we have members of various religious and ethnic groups,” he added. “African-American families have been approved for membership and existing members have offered to sponsor others.”

While Wilson’s membership appears to be a step in the right direction for the club, some locals like Bobby Donaldson, an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina, is skeptical that her presence will change much.

Wilson’s admission is “a turn of the page of history,” Donaldson told The State. When asked if he meant in a good way, the professor responded, “We shall see. Having a member of the club does not change the culture, necessarily.”

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