On a Monday night in October, Dr. Brown, a respected emergency-room doctor and native Charlestonian, waited in a hallway of the private club with 13 other men who hoped to be voted in. One of the members who sponsored Dr. Brown’s application had introduced him at the club’s monthly meeting, emphasizing his good character, local roots and military service.
Then the nominees were ushered out of the room, and the 50-odd club members in attendance began scooping up handfuls of marbles. There were 14 small boxes, each marked with an applicant’s name: A white marble dropped in was a yes vote, a black one meant no. Six or more black marbles would spell rejection.
“We are a very polite city but even when our best and our brightest show up, the color of your skin is still the one thing you can’t change.” – Dorothy Scott, President of Charleston branch of the N.A.A.C.P
Dr. Brown was the only African-American nominee, and the only one to receive a subtle tap on the shoulder on the way back into the room. Eleven black marbles had been dropped in his box.
And so, instead of quietly crossing one of the uncodified racial barriers that linger in American life, Dr. Brown, 49, found himself standing outside the clubhouse, in the salt air along the Ashley River, taking the measure of his feelings.
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