At Porter-Gaud, the prep school, he was one of fewer than 10 black students on a campus of 750; he played football, sang in the glee club, and made lifelong friends. He was accepted into the Naval Academy, earned a medical degree, served two tours in Afghanistan, and retired from military service in 2015 to return to Charleston for good, taking a job in a local emergency room and settling with his family in a smart Craftsman-style house close to where he grew up.
By then, the upper peninsula neighborhoods were changing again. Upper-middle-class whites were moving in, including some of the friends Dr. Brown had made over the years. And they discovered the rifle club, with its $175 yearly dues, cheap cold beer and 1,800-foot dock.
One of them was Tommy Dew, 52, a tour-guide operator. He calls himself an ultraconservative, and refers to the Civil War as “the war between the states.” He also hoped when he joined the rifle club about seven years ago that it could evolve, with new buildings, a swimming pool, and crucially, a membership reflecting the neighborhood.
Mr. Dew and his allies began to bring black friends to the club’s bowling alley as guests, including Darius Rucker, singer in the rock band Hootie and the Blowfish, and Corey Alston, a weaver of sweetgrass baskets. The members fawned over Mr. Rucker. Mr. Alston said he had a great time.
Dr. Brown was the one black friend they persuaded to try for membership. Their hopes were high, given his easygoing manner, his military service and his deep Charleston roots. In a city where there is cachet in being native — a “been-hya,” as the locals say, and not a “come-hya” — Dr. Brown was pure been-hya.
At his last military posting in Jacksonville, Fla., Dr. Brown had been happily surprised to be accepted into the nearly all-white Florida Yacht Club. “I’m thinking to myself, I guess this is how you fight perceptions,” he said. “And my kids love it. They’re getting hamburgers by the pool. Then I get to Charleston, and my friends are like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
But there was trouble nearly from the beginning. “After Melvin’s application was received, there was immediate pushback,” Mr. Dew said. “There was a buzz, and it was kind of like a wildfire. People were saying, ‘We’ve got a black applicant, we’ve got a black applicant!’ And it was a mixed reaction, positive and negative. But the negative was strong enough that it was communicated to me” that he was going to be rejected.