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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse defends membership in all-white club

Sheldon Whitehouse
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., addresses questions about his longtime membership in the exclusive Bailey's Beach Club in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, June 18, 2021. |

A Rhode Island senator is defending his longtime membership at an exclusive all-white beach club after he had previously vowed to push to make the club more racially inclusive.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., first came under fire for his membership at the exclusive Bailey’s Beach Club in the island city of Newport when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and promised to terminate his membership if elected. Eleven years later, the news outlet GoLocalProv asked Whitehouse why he hadn't yet terminated his membership with Bailey’s Beach Club, also known as Spouting Rock Beach Association, and if he thought the club should become more diverse.

“I think it would be nice if the membership changed a little bit, but it’s not my position,” he said in response to a question about the club’s lack of racial diversity. When asked if he would pressure the club to address the absence of racial diversity, Whitehouse indicated that he would “take that up privately.” 

Last week, as he appeared in Pawtucket, GoLocalProv caught up with Whitehouse and asked the senator if there had been any changes in the club's membership. “Back in 2017, you had expressed concerns about the membership of the all-white Bailey’s Beach Club, you said that you hoped it would become more diverse.”

The outlet asked Whitehouse if there were “any minority members of the club now.”

“I think the people who are running the place are still working on that and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet,” he replied. When he was asked if an “elite, all-white, wealthy club” should “continue to exist” in 2021, Whitehouse defended Bailey’s Beach Club as a “a long tradition in Rhode Island.” 

“There are many of them and I think we need to just work our way through the issues,” he added. Whitehouse’s defense of Bailey’s Beach Club comes after he has repeatedly painted himself as a warrior for racial justice. 

After the death of George Floyd in police custody last year, Whitehouse took to the Senate floor to remark that “we can and must do better to root out the systemic racism in its many forms and meet America’s full promise of justice for all.” 

On Saturday, following his most recent confrontation with the media over his membership at Bailey’s Beach Club, Whitehouse sent out a tweet celebrating the newly established federal holiday of Juneteenth, which recognizes the anniversary of the day that slaves in Texas were informed that they were free. “This is a meaningful and historic acknowledgment of our past to help carry us forward toward justice,” he wrote. 

Following the publication of the 2017 GoLocalProv article about Whitehouse’s continued membership at Bailey’s Beach Club, local progressive activist Mike Araujo called on Whitehouse to “walk away and encourage those other members of Bailey’s Beach Club who have the heart to join him.” Four years later, another local progressive leader, Gary Dantzler of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, expressed disappointment with the senator over his membership with the exclusive club.

“I am ashamed of Senator Whitehouse and his affiliation with this racist club,” Dantzler told GoLocalProv. “Him coming out and speaking about ending systemic racism while belonging to a ‘whites only’ private club is hypocrisy at its worst.”

“We need to put an end to this good ole boy mentality and hold our elected officials accountable. Black Lives Matter Rhode Island expects the senator to call this what it is; Jim Crow era racism that’s been lingering around the black community like a plague. It’s time for real change and equity,” he asserted.

While Whitehouse “did transfer his shares in the club to his wife years ago,” he was seen at Bailey’s Beach Club as recently as 2017. His wife is now “one of the largest shareholders in the all-white club” who “is at the facilities most summer days.” 

The Spouting Rock Beach Association describes itself as “an exclusive private beach club” that offers “our membership and their guests lunch and dinner service daily, as well as two full service bars, swimming pool, tennis courts, and nearly a ¼ mile of private beach front.” A 2003 New York Times article about the exclusive club reported that “diversity, of course, has made scant inroads on the Newport of Bailey’s Beach, whose membership profile might be defined less by who people are than what they are not.”

“Jewish, yes,” asserted one member of the club who elaborated on the demographics of its membership. “Blacks, not really.” 

However, African Americans have been seen at the club in the past, including journalist Adam Clayton Powell III, who was once married to the daughter of “Eileen Slocum, the grand dame of GOP Newport politics before passing away in 2008.” According to GoLocalProv, Powell “was known to visit the club by lieu of family ties, but did not appear to have a membership.” 

While Whitehouse defended his family’s continued membership at Bailey’s Beach Club and acknowledged its lack of racial diversity, his staff is denying that it has a racially exclusive admission policy. In a statement to the New York Post, Whitehouse senior spokeswoman Meaghan McCabe said, “the club has no such restrictive policy” and it “has had and has members of color.” Bailey’s Beach Club declined to respond to the publication’s request for comment. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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