Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations recently protested the Augusta National Golf Club's failure, so far, to admit any females. Burk sent Augusta National Chairman William "Hootie" Johnson, the head of the course, a letter asking for a meeting. "Hootie" icily responded, apparently only ratcheting up Burk's determination. Burk then promised to lead a protest during the Masters tournament. She did. But the protest garnered, according to press accounts, only about 50 protesters.
Jesse Jackson of Rainbow/PUSH promised to attend, and pre-protest he issued the following statement: "I plan to be there. I'd rather they open the club to women, but it's part of our mission to fight for people's rights."
But Jesse Jackson was a no-show. Why?
Did the Reverend wisely consider the issue trivial, since polls show that most women don't care about this "issue"? Did Jackson wisely consider the failure of a private club to admit females low on the list of priorities, badly trailing, say, the high percentage of today's black children born outside of wedlock, or the over 50 percent inner-city dropout rate, or the devastating amount of black-on-black crime?
No. Jackson failed to show because Burk asked him not to. According to the Orlando Sentinel, apparently Burk told Jackson that she wanted only female protest leaders. "We told Jesse we were happy to have his support, but we wanted this to be a woman-led event," said Burk. Sports Illustrated said, "Burk was more worried that the Reverend Jesse Jackson would be there. She wanted to portray the Augusta membership issue as a question of discrimination against women, being fought by a coalition of women's groups. She was concerned that if Jackson turned up, he'd be the story."
Hold the phone. Suppose Martin Luther King Jr. limited his 1960s civil rights work to only blacks. During the '60s, many white civil rights workers bravely came down South to help with black voter registration. Both white and black civil rights workers lost their lives during the struggle.
Founding Father Ben Franklin established the first abolitionist society in Philadelphia in 1787. Speaking to the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, on Nov. 9, 1789, Benjamin Franklin said, "Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils." In 1790, Franklin petitioned Congress, scolding them about the festering scar of slavery.
William Lloyd Garrison, a white slavery abolitionist, and the editor of the only abolitionist paper to survive 34 years of continuous publication, predicted that "the destiny of the slaves is in the hands of the American women, and complete emancipation can never take place without their cooperation."
Did the women's suffragette movement bar men from supporting it? The Declaration of Sentiments, the foundation document of the women's rights movement, was signed shortly after the first Women's Rights Convention on July 19 and 20, 1848. Despite the request that only women attend that first day, at least 40 men showed up. Organizers allowed men to vote because, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton's History of Woman Suffrage suggests, this provided an opportunity for men to make themselves useful. And one man, indeed, proved very useful. All the resolutions were approved until the controversial ninth, calling for women to secure the right to vote. Many attendees -- both male and female -- denounced it as an outrageous demand that would cheapen the entire cause. Then abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke, making clear that freedom was not divisible according to sex or color. The resolution passed. One hundred finally signed the Declaration, including 32 men.
Don't misunderstand. Burk's "civil rights" quest does not measure up.
As a private club, our Constitution allows Augusta to establish its own admissions policies. Somehow, some way, women succeed, despite the "handicap" of Augusta's non-female admissions policies. According to Catalyst, a research firm, the numbers of women in corporate America showed impressive gains from the year 2000 to 2002, a period of economic sluggishness. During that period, the percentage of women occupying corporate officer positions rose from 12.5 percent to 15.7 percent, or a 25 percent increase. And, in the last seven years, from 1995 to 2002, the number of women in corporate officer positions has nearly doubled. In real numbers, women now hold 2,140 of the 13,673 top-ranking executive positions at Fortune 500 companies.
Regarding "clout titles," including CEO, chairman, vice chairman, president, chief operating officer, senior executive vice president, and executive vice president, in the last seven years, from 1995 to 2002, the percentage of women occupying these positions increased a dizzying 400 percent, from 1.9 to 7.9 percent.
Assuming the "validity" of Burk's cause, her wish to exclude male support seems bizarre. Thus, a male-barred female-only protest condemns the policies of a female-barred male-only private club.