NAACP delays threatened boycott of S.C.

September 04, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

HILTON HEAD, S.C. -- In what may be the first sign of the NAACP backing away from the activism that marked the tenure of fired executive director Benjamin F. Chavis, organization leaders yesterday postponed a threatened economic boycott of South Carolina.

At war with state officials over the flying of the Confederate battle flag above the Capitol dome, Dr. Chavis had threatened in July to strike at the state's $7.3 billion tourism industry with a black boycott unless the flag comes down.

But still struggling to recover from the controversy surrounding Dr. Chavis' dismissal and faced with splintered local support, national NAACP leaders instead came to this sedate island resort to deliver fiery rhetoric, lead 600 chanting protesters on a two-mile march and then announce that they would wait for legal action to run its course before deciding what further action to take.

In taking a more cautious approach, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People bowed to the will of some local leaders who had eschewed confrontation in favor of negotiation and compromise. But the retreat from a boycott -- accompanied by an apparent attempt by NAACP Chairman William F. Gibson to distance himself from Dr. Chavis -- also seemed to signal a return to the NAACP's traditionally more-cautious roots.

Branding the Confederate battle flag a symbol of a vanquished nation that waged war against the United States over slavery, several speakers characterized the display of the flag over the Statehouse as treasonous and as an insult to African-Americans.

"If the army that carried that banner into war had won, all of us of African-American descent would be slaves today," Dr. Gibson said. "The Confederate flag does not represent any existing sovereign government and shouldn't fly above this place where laws are made for all South Carolinians."

As the marchers paraded through Hilton Head, they passed a small gathering of white counterprotesters who waved the banner and jeered.

Unlike a protest in July, yesterday's protest passed without incident. Still, it is clear that the often-uncivil war over the officially sanctioned display of Confederate symbols is heating up all over the South.

South Carolina is the only state that still flies the Confederate battle flag, but Georgia and Mississippi have incorporated the star-studded X emblem in their official state banners. Alabama flew the Confederate flag atop its Capitol until last year, when a judge ruled that it violated state law and ordered it taken down.

In Georgia, where an attempt to change the state flag was defeated in the Legislature last year, pressure from blacks and ,, some whites who consider the banner offensive have persuaded a growing number of businesses and local government bodies to stop flying the state flag.

A recent convert was the Atlanta-based Holiday Inn Worldwide. This, in turn, prompted a boycott by angry whites who call the move an attack on white Southern heritage.

Anti-flag forces now have targeted the Coca-Cola Co., which flies the state flag in front of its headquarters in Atlanta.

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