It’s unclear what the club’s membership breakdown is. Both Whitehouse and the club have declined to provide details.
Asked Friday whether the club has any non-White members, Whitehouse told news outlet GoLocal Prov, “I think the people who are running the place are still working on that, and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet.” But on Monday night, he told reporters on Capitol Hill that the club informed him it does, in fact, have “diversity of membership,” according to CBS News and Politico.
In an interview Tuesday, Gary Dantzler, the founder and executive director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, called Whitehouse’s membership in the club an insult to African Americans in the state who are working to dismantle systemic discrimination.
“The senator says he’s about systemic change in America,” Dantzler told The Washington Post. “But the problem that I have with [his membership in an allegedly all-White club] is that it’s almost a contradiction. Someone with that power that we elected to be our senator, our watchdog, he’s not fulfilling the part of being transparent to African Americans, so I have a huge problem with that.”
Dantzler added that the issue goes beyond Whitehouse and extends to a host of elected officials who have not followed through on their pledges to fight racism.
“It’s not just him,” Dantzler said. “It’s a huge cesspool of politicians that are failing our communities. And you had this opportunity months ago to rally and adapt to what’s going on, when you said you’re for George Floyd and the mission while we screamed for African American liberation. But we didn’t get none of that.”
Other Black leaders in Rhode Island dismissed the controversy.
Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP’s Providence branch, described Whitehouse as “a champion of civil rights” and noted that the senator received an “A” rating from the NAACP on his last legislative report card.
Asked about Whitehouse’s ties to Bailey’s Beach Club, Vincent said the senator had sufficiently explained the matter.
“I understand that there’s been no written policy that excludes Blacks or other people of color from being members in that club,” Vincent told The Post on Tuesday. “And I understand that there are members of color in that club. And there’s not a written covenant saying ‘No Blacks need apply.’ . . . Given the fact that the senator said it’s not accurate, all those things taken together, I’m satisfied.”
In his exchange with reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday night, Whitehouse did not answer directly when asked if he personally knew whether the club’s membership included any people of color.
“I believe that there are,” Whitehouse said, according to Politico. “I don’t spend a lot of time there.”
He added that he believes the local news outlet “got the facts wrong” — even though the senator himself did not initially dispute the notion that the club was all-White.
Whitehouse spokesman Richard Davidson said Monday that Bailey’s Beach Club has “no such restrictive policy” regarding the race or ethnicity of its members. “The club has had and has members of color,” he said.
Davidson also said Whitehouse “recalls transferring his shares” to his wife years ago “to accommodate a club policy of spouses not both being members.” According to GoLocal Prov, Whitehouse’s wife is now one of the club’s largest shareholders.
The club has declined to provide information about its membership rolls.
A woman who answered the phone at the Spouting Rock Beach Association on Monday afternoon declined to answer questions about its membership. She also declined to put a reporter in touch with anyone who could provide further details, saying only that the club is “a very small beach club” and has “no comment at this time.”
While there appear to be contrasting views among civil rights groups toward the senator, Black Republicans — including two sitting members of Congress — have called him out and used the issue as an opportunity to push back against his critiques of their stances on policy issues.
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), who is one of two Black Republicans in the House, tweeted about Whitehouse’s defense of the beach club Tuesday morning. “Voter ID is Jim Crow, but all-white beach clubs are just ‘tradition’ . . . Seem backwards to anyone else?” Owens said.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) also tweeted: “Hey, @POTUS, do you know what’s really Jim Crow 2.0? I know, @SenWhitehouse’s all-white Rhode Island beach club. You see, the Democrats like to use racially charged language like Jim Crow to divide the country and to distract you from the real racists in their party.”
Donalds linked to last week’s video interview with Whitehouse.