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Club admits first black member

Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, the last all-white social bastion in Hillsborough County, admitted its first black member this week, 80 years after opening its doors.

Lanny Sumpter, 45, a Brandon entrepreneur and McDonald's restaurant owner, was sponsored for the membership by Paul Hogan, a former Tampa Tribune managing editor.

Sumpter could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Hogan said club members sought a black member in 1991, before Tampa's all-white clubs came under fire for exclusionary policies, but couldn't find one interested in joining.

He mentioned the dilemma last year while playing golf with Sumpter. "I said, if we can't find someone who likes golf, who can afford it, we could be in the same position the Krewe was in a few years ago," Hogan said.

Sumpter applied for membership this spring, he said.

Tampa lawyer Warren Dawson, who led efforts to integrate Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla in 1991, criticized the club for taking so long to admit a black member.

"If some white man didn't say you can become a member, he never would have had a chance to join," he said. "It ain't about some guy who had the money and was interested in becoming a member."

Social barriers have been slow to crumble in Tampa: Black professionals finally gained entry in 1990 to the University Club, the Junior League and the Rough Riders.

The Tampa Yacht & Country Club broke the color barrier in 1992, admitting U.S. Attorney Charles R. Wilson, who was then a federal magistrate. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, the social club that canceled its annual invasion in 1991 rather than admit black members in time for Super Bowl XXV, accepted four black members the following year.

Palma Ceia didn't bar blacks from joining, but it didn't recruit them, either.

The club came under considerable fire in 1991 for bylaws that discriminated against women, limiting them to non-voting status until former Tampa Bay Buccaneers president Gay Culverhouse successfully challenged them in 1992.

State Attorney Harry Lee Coe and U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bucklew were among the members who resigned over the discriminatory bylaws in 1991, but only Culverhouse challenged the bylaws with the threat of a lawsuit.

Culverhouse found herself barred by a club rule that kept married women from holding memberships. Culverhouse's then-husband, Wm. Reece Smith, had resigned 15 years earlier to protest the sexist bylaws.