1968, like this year a politically turbulent one, was also the year a group of us high school kids picketed the Washington Golf and Country Club.
This largely forgotten anti-Arlington-establishment protest drew plenty of news coverage. When a half-dozen who marched then recently reunited online to recall the details, we agreed the event inspired change in both the club (we like to think), but certainly the lives of the participants.
The clash began when an African-American Maryland woman named Vivien Rowan joined the tennis team at Indian Spring Country Club. She was the wife of syndicated columnist Carl Rowan, also an ambassador who ran the U.S. Information Agency.
Her presence, however, prompted three clubs, as reported in the New York Times, Washington Post and Evening Star in August, to quit the interclub league due to “lack of interest.” Washington Golf was among them.
As organizer Tom Clark recalled, “This was a few weeks after the Chicago Democratic Convention, a few before Nixon’s election… a few months after the Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinations, the Paris demonstrations.”
To us it seemed the world was in turmoil, and youth was called to action.
Several dozen Yorktown High School kids from all three classes made plans, alerted city editors and showed up just after the start of the school year the morning of Saturday, Sept. 7. As local TV news cameras whirred from across Glebe Road, the protesters chanted and waved posters with slogans such as “‘Discriminating people choose WGCC,” “Get a New Racket.”
The highlight in everyone’s memories was the emergence of white-haired Chevrolet dealer Bob Peck from the club’s doors. He stormed onto the lawn and scolded us (something about free association and our need to get a job).
“His face was red as a tomato, and I have to admit it made me nervous,” recalled Marguarite Reed Gooden, then the only black student in Yorktown’s senior class. “But we all kept cool, never responding!” That game face was particularly hard for Reed because her father sometimes caddied at the club and she didn’t want to get him in trouble.
“Many cars tooted their support, while a few yahoos shot us the bird,” recalled John Lorenz, who saved his protest sign for years afterward.
“It was an eye-opening realization that our little neighborhood issue was very much tied to bigger turmoil that was about to bring the country to its knees,” recalled organizer Glen Schneider. “It was a pretty jarring realization for a self-absorbed 17-year-old living in suburbia. But like everything else we did, there was an element of fun.”
Co-organizer Mark Rosenbaum was on the school basketball team, said his coach worried he’d get arrested. So the planners met first with Commonwealth’s Attorney William Hassan, who said marchers would be fine if they stayed on the sidewalk. Rosenbaum’s Jewish parents had also sensed discrimination at the club, so they sympathized, he recalled.
Mary Vandevanter remembers being pleased that Rosenbaum’s parents brought 50 McDonald’s hamburgers to the protesters, but her own parents “saw it on the news and got pretty steamed.”
1968, of course, was a different era. Few at today’s more welcoming country club, where I have friends and have enjoyed much hospitality, remember the picketing.
But to those teenage protesters, it was a first taste of impact in the adult world.
New biography out on a Washington-Lee High School notable alum. Fans of the Grateful Dead and prankster author Ken Kesey will recall Augustus Owsley Stanley III (1935-2011), the group’s sound engineer and chief dispenser of psychedelic pills on the crazed West Coast during the 1960s.
The book titled “Bear” by Robert Greenfield notes that Stanley hung at the W-L lunch table with Shirley MacLaine (Class of ’52). The future hippie complained at being held back in 11th grade. “The school system punished me by now allowing me to take a test and go back into the proper class,” he recalled, even though he eventually got highest score on the physics achievement test ever.
Still, Stanley got into UVA engineering, without that W-L diploma.