Three Montgomery County fraternal organizations recently told black men who asked to be members that they would not be accepted because of their race, according to the black men.
The three applicants, all established professionals in the Silver Spring area, said they approached the Silver Spring and Wheaton lodges of the Loyal Order of the Moose and the Silver Spring lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks as part of an investigation by a Montgomery County delegate for possible discrimination by the clubs.
Officials of all three organizations yesterday denied that they had a policy of denying admission to blacks, and two disputed the conversations recalled by the black men. In each case, cluf officials said, acceptance depended on sponsorship by a lodge member and a majority vote of the lodge. None of the clubs, whose memberships vary between 200 and 500, have any black members, the club officials said.
Montgomery Del. Stewart Bainum Jr., who organized the investigation, said that he asked white men "of similar age and economic circumstances" as the blacks approach the three clubs to ask about membership. In each case the whites said they were invited to join and the blacks were told they could not be members because of their race.
Jim Mihalik, chairman of the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission and one of the white volunteers, said yesterday that when he visited the Silver Spring and Wheaton Moose lodges for Bainum's study, he was invited to pay initiation fees for membership on the spot. "It's very surprising that the discrimination was that overt and blatant," said Mihalik, who did not identify himself as the county HRC chairman when he visited the clubs. "It points out that some of these organizations could be the last real bastions of overt discrimination we have around."
The national Elks and Moose organizations rescinded rules barring black membership in the early 1970s after the Supreme Court decided that states could deny liquor licenses to clubs that practiced racial discrimination. The two Moose clubs and the Silver Spring Elks all have liquor licenses and enjoy a complete exemption from state property taxes as well as other tax breaks, according to Bainum.
Bainum surveyed 10 Montgomery County private clubs and country clubs that have such tax advantages and liquor licenses during the last three months, in each case using one white and one black volunteer to visit the clubs and ask for membership. Bainum said results were inconclusive at five of the clubs, but that there was evidence of "blatant racial discrimination" at three of the remaining five.
The Silver Spring delegate is sponsoring a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would eliminate tax breaks and prohibit liquor licenses for Montgomery clubs found to discriminate on the basis of race, sex or religion, and will present the results of his study at a county legislative hearing tonight.
Officials of the two Moose lodges and the Silver Spring Elks club said yesterday that their rules allow members of any race or religion to join. However, each club was visited for Bainum by a black man who reported being rebuffed for membership.
Cluin Cameron, a local consultant, said he visited the Silver Spring Moose lodge on Wayne Ave. twice, at the end of September and on Oct. 2. On his first visit, he said, he asked about membership and was told to come back after 9:00 p.m., when officers of the club would be present. When he returned, he said, he asked to see an officer of the club so he could find out how to join, and was told by the member who answered the door that "we have no intention of hurting your feelings, but our membership is for whites only."
Howard McNamara, the lodge's treasurer, said yesterday that no such conversation could have taken place. "Whether a person is colored or Caucasian," McNamara said, "our bylaws state that all he would have to do is to get a bonafide member to give him an application." Then, MeNamara said, the application would be voted on by the lodge membership, "according to the moral standards of the community." He said any black person who met those standards and was sponsored by a member could be accepted.
The black men who visited the Silver Spring Elks lodge and the Wheaton Moose lodge asked not to be named, citing fears of harassment.