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How Trump Fought Antisemitism and Racism in Palm Beach Two Decades Ago

Donald Trump has waged successful battles against and racism over the decades.

“He [Trump] put the light on ,” Mr. [Abe] Foxman[, national director of the Anti-Defamation League] says. “Not on the beauty and the glitter, but on its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact.”

Yes, part of his motivation certainly had been financial. That is a prime motivation for capitalistic activities across the board. Still, effectively used the legal system to overturn institutional discrimination as well.

From this April 1997 Wall Street Journal story about his Mar-a-Lago property and his roiling the old social order in the then-racist Palm Beach scene, we have this little tidbit worth bringing to your attention (photos added by Dan Schwartz):

…Ten years ago [in 1987], [publisher of Palm Beach Society magazine James Jennings Sheeran] estimates, about 65% of Palm Beach residents lived on trust money or inherited wealth. Today, he estimates, only about 25% do so. “This was a very graceful senior-citizen market,” he says. “It was nice, clean people. Now, you have a lot of junk-bond money. The quality of the money is not pure.”

Adds Shannon Donnelly, society writer for the Palm Beach Daily News: “I tend not to go to Mar-a-Lago.” Gatherings there, she says, don’t attract “a high-end social crowd. If they were high-end, they’d be at one of the other clubs.” Besides, covering functions at Mar-a-Lago “would lend [Mr. Trump] credibility he doesn’t deserve yet,” she says.

Mr. Trump, who still occupies a private wing of Mar-a-Lago, considers such sentiments the last gasps of a dying breed. “You have two groups here,” he says, “the doers and those who inherited. Mar-a-Lago is composed of the doers. At the other clubs, you probably wouldn’t recognize the [members’] names.”

Guess-Whos-Coming-to-Dinner-Trump-Mar-a-Lago-350x450The culture clash began to approach a climax last fall [1996], when Mr. Trump’s lawyer sent members of the town council a copy of the film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a film that deals with upper–class racism. Mr. Trump then approached the town council about lifting the restrictions that had been placed on the club. He also asked some council members not to vote on the request because their membership in other clubs created a conflict of interest.

Last December, after the council refused to lift the restrictions, Mr. Trump filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Palm Beach, alleging that the town was discriminating against Mar-a-Lago, in part because it is open to Jews and African-Americans. The suit seeks $100 million in damages.

The town denies the allegation and says it was merely deciding a zoning matter. (The Everglades Club denies that it discriminates in admissions; Palm Beach’s other clubs generally decline to comment on Mr. Trump’s allegations.)
Mar-a-LagoThe episode shook the Palm Beach establishment, unaccustomed to having its linen, dirty or not, aired publicly. Some organizations now find they have to tread lightly if they want to hold a function at Mar-a-Lago. When an arm of the Junior League of Palm Beach recently decided to hold a luncheon at the estate, organizers received incensed calls and letters from some members, though the luncheon kept to schedule and was well-attended.

Among the angry was Estelle Curran, a stalwart of the local social scene. “Mr. Trump has made so much trouble in this town,” Ms. Curran says. “A lot of people feel that if we boycott the place, we won’t help him make money…”
…Now, [Anti-Defamation League President Abraham] Foxman seems pleased that Mr. Trump has elevated the issue of discriminatory policies at social clubs. “He put the light on Palm Beach,” Mr Foxman says. “Not on the beauty and the glitter, but on its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact.”

In recent weeks, Foxman says, the league has received calls from Jewish residents telling of how Palm Beach clubs are changing. Locals concur that in the past year, organizations such as the Bath and Tennis Club have begun to admit Jewish patrons. The Palm Beach Civic Association, which for many years was believed to engage in discriminatory behavior, this month named a Jewish resident as its chief officer…


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