Democrats Urge South Carolina Governor to Leave Whites-Only Country Club, But He’s Not Budging

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster. Photo by Mary Ann Chastain, AP

State Democrats are demanding that new South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster renounce his membership at a whites-only country club before he heads into the Governor’s Mansion. However, Republican legislators insist that the club membership is a nonissue.

McMaster, who is replacing Gov. Nikki Haley as she accepts a position in President Trump’s Cabinet, has been a member of the exclusive Forest Lake Club for over 30 years and said he has no plans to withdraw from the private golf club, according to The State. The club has repeatedly been accused of catering only to white people and refusing to accept or extend membership opportunities to African-Americans.

In 2014, the governor also declined to end his membership with the country club when he ran against former Democratic state legislator and CNN commentator Bakari Sellers in their race for lieutenant governor, The State reported. Sellers urged McMasters to leave the racist and exclusionary country club, adding that he knew of no Black members there and had never been invited to join the club himself.

“I’m asking Henry McMaster to join me in standing up against those old ghosts and for a new South Carolina and for all future generations by permanently resigning his membership to the Forest Lake Country Club, which in 2014 continues to accept no African-American members,” he said at a news conference on the back steps of the South Carolina Statehouse two years ago.

Since McMaster’s latest refusal to leave the club, Sellers has criticized the governor for being part of the “good ol’ boy’s” club that, much like the Confederate flag, is representative of the South Carolina’s racist and segregationist past. In 2015, Haley took action to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds shortly after the Charleston church massacre, carried out by self-avowed white nationalist Dylann Roof, that left nine Black Bible study-goers dead.

Democratic lawmakers have argued that McMaster’s association with the private club is essentially a continuation of the state’s white-supremacist culture.

“Our incoming governor, to his shame, if he continues to be a member of a whites-only country club, will perpetuate the legacy of white supremacy in the state’s networks of power and privilege,” said S.C. Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison.

Still, Republican lawmakers like state Sen. John Courson, who also is a member of the Forest Lake Club, see no issue with McMaster’s membership. Courson told The State that a number of Republicans and Democrats hold memberships at the prestigious country club and that his membership, in particular, has never been contested “in any of my nine Senate campaigns.”

Bobby Donaldson, a civil rights historian and history professor at the University of South Carolina, again asserted that McMaster’s ties to the private country club are a reminder of the remnants of racial segregation that still exist in parts of South Carolina today. He added that the new governor’s stance on the matter is ironic, seeing as McMaster is a history lover and likely understands the issue his membership at the Forest Lake Club poses — not to mention the message it sends to his Black constituents.

“He is in the best position as a leader in this state and as a student of history to call for a change publicly,” Donaldson said.

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