Jonathan Boncek file photo
Rep. Wendell Gilliard
A few months after members of the Charleston Rifle Club rejected an MUSC doctor and Navy veteran who would have been the downtown private club's first black member, a state lawmaker is asking to meet with the group's president.
In a letter Thursday requesting a meeting on Jan. 11 with Dru Patterson, who took over as Rifle Club president earlier this year, Rep. Wendell Gilliard said he thought it was "extremely important to me to hear your side so that I can decide how to proceed." Gilliard describes the decision to deny Brown while others were accepted as "extremely concerning in our present day." The Rifle Club sits in Gilliard's district on Heriot Street, near where the rep says he grew up.
Melvin Brown was denied in his bid to become a member of the all-white, all-male Charleston Rifle Club in October. At the same meeting, more than a dozen white prospective members were approved. Rifle Club rules make it easy for a small number of members to overrule admission for any reason. A move to change the rules to make it harder for racists to be racists (at least in this instance) failed earlier this year when supporters attempted to mobilize in an effort to rally around Brown.
Gilliard says he has asked the state legislative council
to research whether the club has received any taxpayer money that could put it in violation of any state laws. The Rifle Club's location, Gilliard notes, sits between the location of the 2015 deaths of Walter Scott at the hands of a white North Charleston police officer and nine worshippers inside Mother Emanuel at the hands of a white supremacist.
The club's decision to deny Brown calls into question sentiments around racial unity after those events, Gilliard says.
"How can we hold hands on Calhoun Street and kneel up in the North Area now that we know [about the Rifle Club]," he says.
"I applaud the businesses, the residents, that stood up against it, but now we got to take it to another level," Gilliard says.
Despite his denial, Brown has said he's felt support
from friends and colleagues who have remained members to try to change the environment from within the Rifle Club. In a City Paper op-ed in December
, Dwayne Green, who was the first black member of Charleston Country Club and attended Porter-Gaud School with Brown, put pressure on local institutions to be proactive about change.
Ben Young, legislative assistant to the Charleston County delegation, said that as of just after 4 p.m., Gilliard had not heard from Patterson.