NAACP to expand S.C. boycott in bid to banish Confederate flag

Civil rights group calls for labor organizations, actors, athletes to join

May 17, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Though the Confederate flag seems destined to come down from the South Carolina Statehouse dome, the NAACP plans to expand its boycott of the state, calling on the motion picture industry, professional athletes and labor organizations to join in until the flag is removed from Statehouse grounds.

A bill awaiting final approval in the South Carolina Legislature would move the flag from the dome to a 30-foot pole at the Confederate Soldier's Monument on Statehouse grounds, where it could be illuminated. Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP president, called the plan "an insult."

"We find that totally reprehensible and absolutely unacceptable," Mfume said at a news conference yesterday at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People headquarters in Northwest Baltimore. He was joined by James Gallman, president of the South Carolina Conference of Branches, and Dennis Hayes, general counsel.

Economic sanctions, which began Jan. 1, have cost South Carolina an estimated $20 million to $40 million in tourism revenue, Mfume said.

The Confederate flag has flown atop the South Carolina Statehouse since 1962. NAACP leaders have tried unsuccessfully for nearly four decades to have it removed. Until recently, South Carolina lawmakers showed no intention of doing so.

But in July at its annual convention, the NAACP introduced a resolution condemning the flag's location and asking that it not be displayed in "a position of sovereignty."

On Jan. 17, an estimated 47,000 marchers joined the NAACP in South Carolina to protest the flying of the flag over the Statehouse.

As of late March, dozens of groups have heeded the boycott, from colleges to political organizations and churches to fraternities and sororities, the NAACP said.

Now the nation's oldest civil rights group is calling on athletes, actors and labor organizations to help squeeze South Carolina's coffers even more, in hopes that lawmakers will eventually succumb to economic pressures to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds.

"I'm going to L.A. to ask them to consider withdrawing consideration of making any films, documentaries, etc., in South Carolina," Mfume said. "We will talk to athletes all over the country, regardless of color, because their role in this becomes significant. We will meet later with organized labor to find a way to step up the pressure."

Mfume said the boycott has been successful, even though the NAACP has not yet won. He noted that the flag flew untouched for 38 years but now probably will be moved. He said that NAACP leaders had hoped to announce an end to the boycott yesterday.

"Our hope, after working on this issue over and over again, was to try to find a way to make sure if we could reach an agreement on this and compromise, that we would do this," Mfume said. "We're not fools in this process, nor are we beggars. There is a limit to the patience, even of the NAACP."

If the flag continues to fly on state grounds, more demonstrations like the one in January will be organized, Mfume said. "There will be an increase in this effort," he said. "It is not going to go away."

Among the activities canceled have been family reunions. NAACP officials estimate that 68 percent of African-American family reunions are held in South Carolina.

The annual Memorial Day Motorcycle Rally, at which African-American bikers, college students and others gather for a weekend, will still be held next week, but Mfume said he doesn't consider that a blow to boycott efforts.

"The African-American community is not monolithic," Mfume said. "The key is to make sure there's an overwhelming consensus for the issue."

Lou Fontana, director of communications with the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation &Tourism, said yesterday that he could not dispute Mfume's revenue loss estimates.

"When we originally looked at the numbers, the figure ranged from $15 million to $20 million, with 115 to 120 conventions and meetings that were canceled, and that was six weeks ago," Fontana said.

"We will be feeling the economic impact of this down the road, even if it's resolved tomorrow. You cannot put a dollars-and-cents figure on what it has done to our image. We have become a one-issue state."

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