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Jessie Jackson urges Augusta to change

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. wants to meet with Augusta National Golf Club chairman Hootie Johnson, tell him to "get over it" and admit a woman member.

For Johnson, it should not be about "saving face,"Jackson said, but about doing "the right thing."

"You can't put pride over prudence," said Jackson, who stopped in Augusta on his way to a tour of Greenville County, South Carolina, where he is championing a county holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"They're taking a strong stand, but they have a weak hand," the civil rights activist said of Augusta National, which hosts the annual Masters golf tournament in April.

The 300-member club has come under fire in the past year for its all-male membership. Despite the demands of the National Council of Women's Organizations, Johnson has said there are no plans to admit a woman.

Jackson and the NCWO have said they will stage a protest at this year's tournament if a woman is not admitted. While Augusta National is a private club, Jackson called the Masters "a very public event" because it requires a police presence and other public services.

Jackson said that while in Augusta he met with ministers and community leaders including William "Billy" Morris III, a member of Augusta National and owner of the Augusta Chronicle newspaper, in the hope that it would lead to a woman being admitted.

"We had a good meeting," Jackson said, adding that he is hopeful Johnson will change his mind.

Morris could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Augusta National spokesman Glenn Greenspan said Johnson had no comment.

Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, was undaunted by the club's tough stand. He pointed to some of his previous negotiating efforts involving hostage-holdings in which, he said, long odds were overcome.

The key, he said, is making an appeal "that's reasonable, even to tough people."

Jackson said the Augusta National issue is an important matter.

"This is not about women trying to join a frat house," he said. "It's a much larger issue. Gender equality, racial equality and freedom from religious bigotry are in the same ethical category."

Jackson said women have made progress in all areas of endeavor, from female troops in war, to astronauts in space, to athletes in sports.

The club's position, he said, "symbolizes such a disrespect for women at a time when women are on the front lines."

Augusta National, he added, "is swimming upstream."

Jackson discounted concerns that a demonstration at the Masters would affect public safety, and said there would be no point to canceling this year's tournament in the hope dissent would die.

Said Jackson, "The issue won't go away."

 

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