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the negro controversy and naturism
_Editor's note_ The following text is from a real conversation among members of a nudism club who had to decide how to handle the application for membership from a Africa American family. The use of the word negro is indicative of the time. As we celebrate Black History month with a naturist and clothes free lens we thought it is informative to understand the presence of African-Americans in the naturist, nudist and clothes free community. See our 2018 Black History month series Reclaiming the Legacy and read shared experiences of black and brown people in our bare black and brown series
(CONTROVERSY: NEGROES AT CAMP)
The following article is taken from MAR News, a club bulletin long known for its editorial excellence first established by the late “Big Bob.” This valuable contributor to Mountain Air Ranch would have been proud to see how honestly, intelligently and fairly his fellow MAR members confronted the question of Negro membership applications. Though a familiar one to other clubs, particularly those close to large cities, the question of Negroes at camp had never before presented itself to MAR members. Other clubs have of course had to answer the question, each in its own way. As the illustrations on the following pages reveal, many have opened their park gates to Negroes. Some, however, have yet to decide on a policy. In the interests of stimulating the thoughts of clubs as yet undecided — and also in the hope of prompting a re-examination of ingrained attitudes among those whose policy toward Negroes is firmly negative — the MAR News editorial “Controversy” is reprinted here in full.
by Don, co-editor of MAR News
Recently we received a request for membership from a Negro family. It was an excellent letter and a second try (the first one had been ignored), so I felt they deserved an answer.
I phoned them one afternoon and said that I would drop by that evening to chat with them. Upon arriving at their home, I found it to be far above average. It was in an exclusive section of one of Denver’s suburbs. Their home was immaculate and furnished in exceptionally good taste. They were an attractive couple in their twenties with well-dressed and well-mannered children. Warren holds a position of some importance in one of the larger corporations in the area. I found them both to be excellent conversationalists, and I thoroughly enjoyed the small talk of getting acquainted. They radiated an enthusiasm and interest in nudism that was both clean and refreshing.
However, to their inquiry about membership in our group, I explained that we are a privately owned club with an exclusive membership in that each new member had to be approved by the group. I said that at present we are all Caucasian and any effort by them to join at this time would only result in embarrassment and disappointment. It hurt and it hurt bad. In spite of my rudeness, they were still very friendly and polite; and we went back to the small talk of just being cordial and friendly. But when I left that house, I knew deep in my heart that I had done wrong . . . and it has been bugging me ever since.
I included the problem in our questionnaire on controversial subjects to be discussed by the membership at large. Here is a summary of that portion of the questionnaire meeting. As to the results of the questionnaire, I would like to point out that these are not frivolous statements but the results of deep and serious thought. With more than 50 questionnaires returned, the tabulated results were as follows:
allow them to join: 27
don’t allow them to join: 8
I just don’t know: 6
The balance was either unexpressed on the subject or impossible to categorize.
At this point, I would like to compliment everyone in attendance at the meeting. Emotions were high. Many were tense and burning with personal convictions that had to be expressed. I have never attended any meeting where courtesy and self-control were so beautifully displayed. It demonstrates once more that nudists as a whole are certainly a cut above the average.
It was decided to air the negative side first. Earl told of owning a house near Stapleton Airport prior to the “block bust-ing” technique that was used there. In other words, a wealthy colored family bought a house in the block, paying much more than the house was worth. They were nice people and good neighbors and they kept their house and yard clean. Even so, there was a white in the block who didn’t like them and sold his house at a loss. This was repeated until property values dropped to where lower class Negroes could afford to move in. They didn’t maintain their houses or yards, and a once-beautiful neighborhood became nearly a slum. Earl was forced to sell at a loss of several thousand dollars.
During this time, two members of a white family in the neighborhood — the wife and her mother — were attacked by young Negro males. As Earl mentioned, a common question asked by prospective members is, “Are there Negroes up there?” He feels that the answer “yes” would damage our chances of recruiting new members.
Then Russ spoke, pointing out the problems integrated camps have had throughout the country. He said that many of them are no longer in operation and pointed out one camp that has taken a great financial loss. Bud said that his feelings had been expressed by the first two speakers. And he added that he had had to give up his Boy Scout classes because of the complete domination by the Negroes who screamed “Discrimination!” at every decision they didn’t like. Jack spoke quite thoroughly on the effect of the Negro move into the south side of Chicago where he was raised. He felt that they tend to take whatever they want and that our club would be dealt with the same way.
Corky then asked if we could afford to lose any memberships over this. I answered, “Economically no, but morally . . . .” Jan said that Negroes have been raised with such inferior backgrounds that they cannot hope to be acceptable to whites of better background.
Rex answered that we should be concerned with immediate rather than future membership. He then questioned the legality of being able to keep them out. Russ answered that the legality has already been proven in the courts, and as long as we have no interstate commercial business or any funds from outside public or federal interests, Negroes have no legal recourse. Shirley stated that she had always understood the ideals of nudism to mean no discrimination against any race. color, religion, or political affiliation: and she felt we would have a decidedly bad reputation if we discriminated.
At this point, it was felt the negative side had been quite thoroughly covered, so I then called on Dave to speak for the affirmative. Several members, including some opposing the issue, have asked for a copy of this talk. Therefore, we are print-ing it verbatim.
(Editor’s Note: In the interest of clarity for our general readership, those remarks that pertain to local matters and personalities have been deleted.)
“To get down to the question before us, I would like to say that we, as nudists, are a minority group. Some of us are our own bosses and are responsible to no other person, so we may choose to be very free with the matter of passing out information about membership in the nudist world. But a great many of us are very much dependent upon someone or some group for whom we work. And because nudism is not yet generally accepted, and because some of the general public are quite in opposition to it, it remains essential that some of us have to protect ourselves and our life’s work under a cloak of secrecy. I, for one, must constantly be on my guard.”
“So I can speak as a member of a minority group, knowing something of the privations and fears that come with being in the minority. I take the risk because I am thoroughly convinced of the nudist way of life. And if it involves certain problems, I take responsibility for them because I have chosen to be a nudist.”
“A Negro has no choice. He is a Negro by birth. He is not even allowed to hide his identity under a cloak of secrecy. His skin color will always serve to identify him. I would think, then, that nudists would be all the more sympathetic toward him since some of us certainly know the problems that face a member of a minority group. I have enjoyed my visits here immensely because I have not only found a great freedom and peace, but I have had the opportunity to meet and to make many new friends. Nudists of every walk of life have accepted me for what I am. Now I am just a little perplexed to think that I might not have known so much friendship and so much happiness had I been among the ones who are born with black skin. I hate to think what might have been my experience if the word Negro had been attached to my name.”
“It is one of the boasts of nudism that in the nudist world we as individuals are taken for what we are by ourselves. All of us. I am sure, have experienced either personally or through someone else, difficulties with certain Negroes. My office is so located that I have many times had some rather nasty experiences with certain members of the Negro race. But I have had trouble with people of all colors of the genetic rainbow!”
“I would hope that we who have found a nearness to God or Mother Nature if you like, would find it in our hearts and minds to accept everyone on his own personal merits. I would like to think that any family that is of the right attitude toward life—the nudist way of life in particular—would have the same kind of welcome and acceptance by other nudists. If it should be necessary to turn down a Negro applicant, we should be in a position to inform them that it is not a matter of discrimination, it’s just that they do not meet the standards of our club.”
“There is the fear on the part of some of us that once we allow one Negro family into the membership, we will then be over-run with Negroes. I do not believe this. We have a membership committee, and it will be their responsibility to accept only those who meet the standards of the Ranch and then only in proper proportion.”
“Then there is the matter of our membership in the American Sunbathing Association. There are camps in other states where Negroes are already members. One of these days, one or more of these Negroes in good standing in another camp will turn up here in the summer for a visit. What will be our situation and attitude then? We can hardly turn away visitors, particularly visitors who are bona fide nudists,just because they are Negro.”
“Finally, let me say this. We have all enjoyed this very wonderful Ranch. It is a most marvelous place to come and get away from all the turmoil and tribulation of daily life. It can remain only if we who have enjoyed this place so much, give to it our full support. That means not only accepting it for the pleasure we derive from it but also for its problems. Those whose task it is to manage the Ranch and bear the cost of its operation will have to meet this matter of Negro membership at one time or another, sooner or later. They need the full support and cooperation of every member. It should not be a matter of withdrawing membership because we don’t like this or that complication. Rather, we should stay with it and see what we might do to help the camp.”
At the conclusion of Dave’s talk, Russ pointed out that if we socialize with the Negroes and invite our children to socialize with their children, what is to prevent the intermarriage of some? As the meeting was closing, Tom said, “If there should be a loss of members because of a decision to permit membership to Negroes, I will personally recruit and replace anyone who quits.”
I have gone through many different frames of mind while coming to my decision, the predominant one being, “What is right is right: and damn the consequences!” But then I am faced with the fact that those who oppose me are not crackpots, they are my friends, and they do so with much thought and reason as well as with understanding. I sincerely ask all of you who are opposed. to open your hearts and minds to the real logic of right and wrong and give it a lot of honest thought.
Here, then, is my decision. If this family should reapply for membership next year (1968 season), I will accept them. Or should another Negro family of equal merit apply, they also will be accepted. I do not consider this a wedge for the Negro race to overrun or to dominate our club. In fact, the percentage of inquiries from the Negro is minimal.
There are many who will disagree with my decision. I only hope that you will accept this as an honest effort on my part to do what I feel is right. And I hope that we all may continue in the harmony that we have achieved in the past.
This just shows far we've come and how far we still have to go to achieve equality.It also shows how naturism can help enlighten people about acceptance of others regardless of body type or skin color.It makes you think that's for sure and that's a good thing.Great find.
Thanks for this retrospective that illustrates the sociological complexities in human relationships brought about by a history of oppression that goes back for hundreds of years. We would like for progress in resolving all the current and historical causes for racial based conflict to have happened yesterday. Unfortunately, masses of humans with some exceptions, no matter the color, are not capable of sudden radical change. What we usually have is one on one contacts and connections that open minds and hearts on all sides.
It would be marvelous for naturism to be a medium that plays a meaningful role in reconciliation for all people. Yet, fifty years after this discussion at MAR, naturism itself is still a disadvantaged minority. Despite the current discouraging upturn in racial tensions, naturism offers a forum in which to drop the barrier to being known that clothing represents and become that much more vulnerable to one another in mutual acceptance and reconciliation.
I would hope that all naturists will actively embrace a more active and targeted out reach to every member of the American population. Remember, it's good for every body!
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