Trump Opens the Club to Blacks and Jews? Not Quite

Ronald Kessler makes an interesting statement about Donald Trump and Palm Beach:

“When Donald opened his club in Palm Beach called Mar-a-Lago, he insisted on accepting Jews and blacks even though other clubs in Palm Beach to this day discriminate against blacks and Jews,” Kessler says.

“The old guard in Palm Beach was outraged that Donald would accept blacks and Jews so that’s the real Donald Trump that I know.”

As with many things in Palm Beach, it isn’t that simple.

With black people, he may be right; I’m not sure when clubs such as the Beach, Everglades and Bath & Tennis racially integrated.  The biggest hurdle is money.

But with the Jews…ah, that’s a different story.  Palm Beach’s club system has been rigidly segregated between Jewish and Gentile clubs for many years, as I found out growing up:

Anyone who lived on the north end of the island had to pass the Palm Beach Country Club, with its well manicured course and pristine clubhouse, to go anywhere. As we passed this place time and time again, I (a kid of nine or ten) wondered, “Why do we pass this place up to go to another club?” I grew up in a family where it wasn’t wise to ask too many questions, but eventually I was told that it was the “Jewish Country Club,” and since we were Gentiles, we belonged elsewhere.  (That “elsewhere” was the Breakers.)

This segregation was strictly enforced. There were “Jewish clubs,” there were “Gentile clubs,” and n’er the twain met. This enforcement could be brutal. In the early 1960’s a member of another of Palm Beach’s exclusive clubs (the Everglades Club) made the mistake of bringing her Jewish friend for lunch. She was asked to resign her membership.

Jews have been able to join the club in Palm Beach for many years, but their own clubs.  Bernie Madoff used this to his advantage when he began his scheme to defraud both his fellow Jews and the club they belonged to.

Donald Trump’s idea at Mar-a-Lago was that Jews and Gentiles could belong to the same club, and for that idea he deservedly gets credit.

15 thoughts on “Trump Opens the Club to Blacks and Jews? Not Quite”

  1. Probably a money thing, not color. I’m sure if I showed up (a white guy) I would be turned away because I wouldn’t be able to afford my own way in. I understand that, it makes sense.

    1. The money is a steep hill to climb. Because it’s gotten so expensive, I couldn’t afford to move back to my own home town.

      I should clarify one thing: Palm Beach clubs, certainly the Gentile ones, certainly excluded blacks when I grew up there. The racism in South Florida was pretty nasty when I grew up there, and that in a region full of people from the Northeast.

      1. I doubt it very seriously. I doubt there are any discounts being offered either, but one never knows with clubs these days.

      2. Affirmative action applies only in arenas of Employment and Public Education. Also, the push to make it a private club was what really made the integration possible, as private clubs can control membership, even if the surrounding community is against allowing any particular person from becoming a member of that club. Not sure about the payment requirements.

  2. Is this because the Jewish clubs were to expensive/wealthy for the others to join? I have Jewish and non-Jewish friends in Miami and they never mentioned anything like this to me.

    1. Not really. It’s a function of Palm Beach’s social system, which is sui generis, as this book describes in detail.

      In the very early years of the twentieth century, when the town was getting started, Jews and Gentiles mixed freely. Sometime around or immediately after World War I, Jewish and Gentile society bifurcated. (That was the time when the Ivy League schools invented their “well-rounded” admission system, specifically to cut down on the number of Jews entering those schools.) That remained pretty much the case for most of the last century and into this one.

      I doubt seriously that the dues and fees of, say, the Palm Beach Country Club were that different from that of the Bath and Tennis or the Everglades Club. It was just that the two communities were segregated with their clubs and that was it. I would point out that this segregation didn’t extend to the private schools; I had Jewish classmates at Palm Beach Day School, as I describe here. I also would note that, as I got away from Palm Beach and into other parts of South Florida, that the two communities were not as split as they were in Palm Beach. And I’m sure that the situation has improved as South Florida itself has become more diverse.

      The fact that Donald Trump’s setting up Mar-a-Lago as a club with a broader base of people is an event is a reflection of Palm Beach itself, as is the fact that it took so long. Other places have either set up clubs like this or integrated existing ones with a lot less fanfare.

      Historical Note: Mar-a-Lago was for many years the estate of Marjorie Meriwether Post, the heiress to the cereal fortune. It was one of the last estates on the Island not to be split up, and I think it was the largest.

  3. Why do you you title the article “not quite” when your article pretty much goes along with the statement??

    1. Good question. It addresses American’s idea of what “opening” means.

      When they think of “opening” what most Americans think of is the concept that “before Trump did this, blacks/Jews/etc. were unable to have their own club, or their own club was separate thus it was unequal.” As I mention earlier, although there was certainly serious racism in the Palm Beach I grew up in, I think economics drove the admission–or lack thereof–of black people. But I don’t claim to be really conversant on that subject.

      With the Jews, however, I think it silly to say that the Palm Beach Country Club was in any way inferior to the Everglades Club, (Coral) Beach Club, Bath and Tennis, etc.. The Gentiles in their clubs may have thought so, but just because Palm Beach Gentiles think something is so doesn’t make it true. The problem was that Jews and Gentiles in Palm Beach lived in two separate social systems that didn’t meet in many places (school was one of them.)

      Trump’s achievement was that Mar-a-Lago was explicitly started so that all of these groups could get together in one club. And many in Palm Beach didn’t like that. When he proposed the change to the Town of Palm Beach, he exposed a separate social system that needed to lighten up for reasons other than just racial/ethnic/religious equality. Palm Beach’s social system is very rank-conscious and brutal as a consequence; you need to keep that in mind when reading stuff from Palm Beachers such as the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell.

      I know that my title perhaps “picks a nit,” but with American’s conditioning on the subject of separateness and equality, I wanted to play on the safe side.

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