Elks Club with History of Discrimination is No Place for a County-Sponsored Banquet, Says ACLU of Maryland and NAACP

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
May 19, 2003 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE-Citing a local Elks Club’s century-long record of discrimination against African Americans, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People today urged the Anne Arundel County Fire Department not to hold a county-sponsored banquet at the facility this Thursday.

“”The Elks Club is a public accommodation that still is not complying with civil rights laws that have been on the books for nearly four decades,”” said Susan Goering, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. “”We call on the Anne Arundel County Executive and County Council to promulgate a policy that forbids spending taxpayers’ money in any facility that still discriminates in 2003.””

According to ACLU attorneys, the Annapolis Elks Lodge #622, which boasts over 1,500 members, celebrates its 100th birthday this year, but has still never had an African American member. Under Elks bylaws, in order to become a member of the lodge, a current member in good standing must recommend an applicant.

Throughout its history, charges of discrimination have plagued the lodge. Thirty years ago, the lodge came under fire from the Department of Justice when it refused to allow an 8-year-old African American boy to play on a lodge-sponsored little league football team. Critics charged that the discrimination was unacceptable when civic associations like the Elks Club reap hefty state and federal tax benefits on the theory that their benevolence programs — like the little league teams — provide value to the community at large.

In 1990, Lodge #622’s membership policies again came under scrutiny after Annapolis passed an ordinance that required private clubs to stop discriminating on the basis of race and gender in order to receive liquor licenses. While other private clubs in Annapolis changed their policies and began accepting women and African Americans, Lodge #622 chose instead to challenge the ordinance in court.

When the Maryland Court of Appeals ultimately ruled against the lodge, it moved its facilities out of the city and into Anne Arundel County. The ruling was a landmark decision, making Annapolis the only municipality in the state to prohibit alcoholic beverage licenses to clubs that discriminate. Lodge #622 has since admitted women to membership and the current Exalted Ruler is a woman, but African Americans have never been admitted.

Last December, the Maryland Housing Community Development Agency, a government agency, decided not to hold its holiday party at the Elks Lodge in light of the lodge’s long policy of exclusion based on race.

“”In a city that is now one-third African American, it is high time for this last vestige of discrimination in Annapolis to fall,”” said Gerald Stansbury, President of Anne Arundel’s NAACP Branch. “”It is patently unfair to ask African American firefighters and their family and friends who want to attend this work-related event to go to a place that otherwise would not want them walking through the door.””

In the late 1980’s, following a series of Supreme Court opinions that sanctioned local civil rights laws forbidding discrimination in private clubs, the ACLU and other civil rights organization founded The Coalition for Open Doors. An ACLU lawsuit against the 6,000-member Hagerstown Moose Lodge for running a public accommodation that discriminated forced the club to close its doors in the mid-1990s.

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