The Carolina Country Club, a favored gathering spot for Raleigh’s social elite since 1910, has made what appears to be its first acceptance of African-American members in its 103-year history.
The most recent edition of Columns, the club newsletter, that arrived in members’ mailboxes Tuesday announced that Hilda Pinnix-Ragland, vice president of corporate public affairs for Duke Energy, had been accepted for membership with husband Alvin Ragland.
Pinnix-Ragland is a native of Hillsborough who started her career in 1980 when she joined Carolina Power & Light, which subsequently became Progress Energy. Alvin Ragland is a human resources specialist.
Reached at her home in Cary on Wednesday, Pinnix-Ragland said, “We are members of the club, and we are excited to be members. We’re looking forward to it.”
Club President Timothy Nichols did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday, and other club officials could not be reached.
Frank Daniels Jr., former publisher of The News & Observer and a member of the Carolina Country Club since 1956, still golfs there and eats supper at the club on Sundays. He said this is the first time the CCC’s leadership has approved an African-American member, though some members have said for years the club needed to diversify.
Membership is by invitation only. Joining fees are said to be about $40,000 and monthly dues more than $600.
“The black people I’ve talked to just didn’t want to belong,” Daniels said, because they didn’t want to be part of an institution where they would be the only people of color.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of prejudice,” Daniels said. “I just think it’s a matter of not knowing anybody.”
The Carolina Country Club has played a major role in Raleigh society and business, especially before companies such as IBM moved to the area in the 1960s and brought in new influences and diverse people from the Northeast and other areas.
Like many private clubs, the country club has watched its clientele age and may be reaching out to a younger and broader potential membership pool. In a letter to members in the March-April newsletter, CCC General Manager Jack Slaughter wrote, “Once again we find ourselves at a point where we chart our future success with some very exciting facility improvements and membership sustainability plans designed to maintain our position as the country club of choice for area families. We know that it is very important to maintain the quality of our physical facilities to continue our relevance and success. However, the most important thing to the Club’s success is continuing the congenial relationships built amongst its member families, making the Club a close community of friends, family and neighbors that enjoy being around each other.”
Pinnix-Ragland, 58, has an accounting degree from N.C. A&T State University and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She joined CP&L as a systems auditor, and later worked as a vice president of economic development, a vice president of energy delivery services and vice president of the northern region. She was the first African-American woman to make the rank of vice president within the company. After the merger of what became Progress Energy with Charlotte-based Duke Energy last year, she was named to her current position.
“I’m just driven for excellence,” she told an N&O reporter for a story in 2005. “I don’t want anyone to say I did not work for what I got.”
William H. Chafe, a Duke University history professor and co-director of the Program on History, Public Policy and Social Change, said the move by Carolina Country Club was “long overdue.” He noted that in April 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., 2,500 students sat on the Main Quad at Duke for days in protest and made four demands of then-Duke President Douglas Knight. One was that he resign his membership in the segregated Hope Valley Country Club.
“These are memberships that carry more symbolic significance than anything else,” Chafe said Wednesday. “But country clubs can be the last bastion of privilege and exclusivity, so it’s important that these things happen.”