The Howard County branch of the NAACP moved its planned convention from the popular Turf Valley Country Club yesterday, citing a tape-recorded conversation last week in which the club's manager allegedly complained repeatedly about "niggers" questioning its hiring practices.
The club outside Ellicott City, in the fast-growing county with a 14 percent black population, has been the site of some of the county's biggest social events and has been host to national entertainers and functions sponsored by blacks, including the NAACP.
The conversation was inadvertently recorded on the telephone answering machine of local NAACP member Sherman Howell, who had called the plush 523-acre resort to ask why it seemed no black waiters and waitresses worked there.
A man identifying himself as Fred Grimmell, the club's manager, returned the call and left a message on Howell's telephone answering machine.
Then, after a click, the voice continued talking, seemingly unaware that the telephone had not disconnected and the tape was still running.
"This nigger, I am going to put him against the wall," the voice said, talking to at least one other person on what seemed to be a conference phone.
The voice said later, "Sherman Howell. He should say, 'This is Sherman Nigger.' Yo nigger, yo bub," according to a copy of the tape obtained by The Washington Post.
A woman in the room said on the tape that Howell had been to several affairs at the club and said he had never seen any black waiters and waitresses there. The man, who had earlier identified himself on the tape as Grimmell, and the woman discussed whether Howell had ever been to the restaurant, when a third voice said: "Well, we don't like niggers."
The woman said: "I was really tempted to . . . "
After some laughter from the woman, the third voice said: "I'm discriminated because all the niggers gets all the jobs."
No more conversation was recorded.
Howell filed a complaint with Howard County police. Police spokesman Sgt. Angus Park said yesterday the incident was investigated but that no crime had been committed. Park said Grimmell did not deny that the voice on the tape was his.
The club's owner, Baltimore County developer Nick Mangione, was out of town yesterday and was unavailable for comment after repeated telephone calls to him in Florida.
Louis Mangione, Mangione's son, who works in the family's development firm, said yesterday that he was unaware of the incident.
"It sounds like it was fabricated to me," the younger Mangione said in a phone interview. "It sounds like some type of comedy. It sounds so dumb."
Louis Mangione said he would investigate the charges, which he said "were serious enough to look into. We need to gather some facts."
When a Washington Post reporter, who is black, went to the club for a comment, Grimmell was in a meeting. A secretary told Grimmell the reporter wanted to see him, and at one point Grimmell said loudly from behind closed doors, "I've got some nigger that wants to grill me." When the meeting broke up, Grimmell left without answering any questions.
Later, when asked for a response, Grimmell told the reporter, "I have no time to talk to you at all. Here's the door, sweetheart. Our conversation is over."
Reached at his Marriottsville home last night, Grimmell refused to comment on the incident.
He referred questions to his attorney, Richard DePasquale in Florida, who was at a doctor's appointment and unavailable for comment when a reporter called last night.
Maryland NAACP President Rev. John Wright, at a news conference yesterday, said his organization plans to demand an apology from Grimmell and his immediate resignation. He said the NAACP may take "stronger measures," including picketing and demonstrations if the issue is not resolved quickly.
The Howard County branch of the NAACP decided to move its annual Freedom Fund Banquet scheduled for March 24 from the club in response.
"The tape was so distasteful, I didn't want to take our function there," said Willis Gay, branch president.
Howell, 44, has filed a complaint with the county's Human Rights Commission asking for an investigation into the racial statements. The commission is scheduled to meet tonight.
The Mangione family purchased the 700-acre site on Turf Valley Road in 1978. A 173-room hotel and conference center under construction is expected to completed in June.
The country club is the scene for most large functions in Howard County. The club's banquet facilities can accommodate up to 1,000 guests, and the facility has two 18-hole golf courses and a 190-seat restaurant.
Inside the club, the walls are decked with photos of prominent sports figures and entertainers who have visited the facility, including Milton Berle, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez, and former football star Johnny Unitas.
The club has some black employees, Gay said. Yesterday, a reporter saw a black waitress in the restaurant, as well as "Employee of the Month" photos of two other black employees.
State NAACP President Wright called the remarks "despicable and deplorable."
He said "my blood must have jumped up 10 degrees" when he heard the taped message last week.
"It was hard to believe," Wright said. "This is 1988 and we have this type of statements . . . This is blatant, outright racism. You don't have to scratch your head."