Specter Wants Probe Into Club's Rejection of Black Swimmers

Sen. Arlen Specter looks into claims of racial discrimination.

ByABC News
July 9, 2009, 2:40 PM

July 9, 2009— -- The introductory voice mail for The Valley Club outside Philadelphia notes that "things are really starting to heat up here in July."

They weren't kidding.

The private club in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., is denying it practiced racism after coming under fire from parents, bloggers, even U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., because a group of black and Hispanic inner-city campers were asked not to come back to the pool even though the camp had paid membership dues through August.

Valley Club president John Duesler Jr. initially released a statement claiming members were concerned "that a lot of kids would change the complexion" and atmosphere of the club.

"This will not be tolerated," said Alethea Wright, executive director of Creative Steps, Inc., which has run the day camp since 1997.

This evening, the club's Web site carried an unsigned statement saying it simply was unable to handle the volume of camp kids and was "deeply troubled by the recent allegations of racism which are completely untrue."

"Our Valley Club deplores discrimination in any form, as is evidenced by our multi-ethnic and diverse membership," the unsigned statement said. "Whatever comments may or may not have been made by an individual member is an opinion not shared by The Valley Club Board."

But during a day at the club, Wright said she was approached by a 7-year-old boy who asked her, "Am I too black to go into the pool?"

As Wright plans to meet with the children's stunned parents, Specter, D-Pa., is waiting for a response to a letter sent out today demanding facts from Duesler.

"As a first step, without getting into all of the legal issues, it is my suggestion that you promptly reinstate the contract and welcome Ms. Alethea Wright's group back to the pool. Whether they accept is up to them," Specter wrote. "It may be that further action will be taken but my suggestion, as an immediate first step, would diffuse the situation and obviously be helpful."

In a separate statement, Specter called the allegations against the swim club "extremely disturbing."

"I am reaching out to the parties involved to ascertain the facts," he said. " Racial discrimination has no place in America today."

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said today it will launch an investigation of the country club's actions at the request of the NAACP.

Wright said she will meet with parents to decide what further action the camp would take against the Valley Club.

Duesler did not return messages left today and the voice mail for the Valley Club was full.

But this evening, the club's unsigned Internet statement said it disinvited the camp kids for logistical reasons, not racial ones.

"We had originally agreed to invite the camps to use our facility, knowing full well that the children from the camps were from multi-ethnic backgrounds," the statement said. "Unfortunately, we quickly learned that we underestimated the capacity of our facilities and realized that we could not accommodate the number of children from these camps. All funds were returned to the camps and we will re-evaluate the issue at a later date to determine whether it can be feasible in the future."