NAACP plans bank boycott

Targets will be those with poor records of minority lending

Speech by Mfume

Naacp 2000

July 11, 2000|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The NAACP is preparing in the next three months to identify and boycott banks with poor records of lending to minorities, the group's president and chief executive, Kweisi Mfume, said during a speech yesterday at the annual convention.

The tactic is not new for the 91-year-old civil rights organization, which has employed boycotts, lawsuits and embarrassment in its efforts to tug corporate America toward change.

The results have been mixed. Experts say the NAACP's economic potency vacillates, depending on its leadership, its targets and others' definition of success. Mfume said the group's half-million members and other supporters must continue to use their buying power to send a message.

"Giving us jobs is not enough," Mfume said. "During slavery, everybody had a job. We want full development."

That means the group plans to target more corporations that do not promote minorities and fail to use minority contractors or otherwise include minorities when conducting business.

In most cases, boycotts don't achieve their economic goals, experts said. They may dent income in the short term, but rarely are they sustained long enough to produce real damage.

But success can be measured in another way, said Monroe Friedman, a psychology professor at East Michigan University and the author of a book on boycotts.

It could mean raising public awareness, or initiating policy changes, diversity training or efforts to include more minorities in business practices, he said.

The NAACP is generally able to achieve some degree of success because of its organization and money, Friedman said. But before 1996, when Mfume took the helm, the group was $3 million in debt and dealing with internal turmoil.

"Like any other group, they've had periods of relative strengths and weaknesses," Friedman said.

Many battles are ongoing. After years of efforts, some banks still have harsher requirements for minorities, Mfume said. Others "redline," or refuse to make loans based on ZIP codes.

In South Carolina, the Confederate flag above the capitol was a target for more than a decade. In July 1999, the NAACP announced a boycott of the state's tourist destinations to pressure the state to remove what most black people regard as a symbol of slavery. Last week, the flag was moved to a memorial behind the capitol.

State officials said the NAACP was effective in that issue. The boycott cost South Carolina 123 conventions, millions of dollars in spending. Tom Sponseller, president and CEO of the Hospitality Association of South Carolina, said business has begun to pick up now that the flag has been moved.

The boycott affected businesses, especially smaller ones, that depend on the tourism industry. They urged the legislature to take down the flag four years ago.

The NAACP plans to continue the boycott since the flag is now flying above a highly visible memorial behind the capitol.

The tourism industry in Phoenix, Ariz., was boycotted after the state refused to declare Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a holiday, costing Arizona a Super Bowl, 170 conventions and about $190 million between 1987 and 1992, when the holiday was finally approved.

The Adam's Mark hotels acted faster. In March, the luxury chain settled a Justice Department lawsuit alleging discrimination against black guests for $8 million. The NAACP assisted in the lawsuit and called for a boycott.

The NAACP also called for a boycott of two other hotels that received poor marks in one of the group's report cards. A spokesman for Omni Hotels said the company's grade was raised shortly after and no effects were felt.

The NAACP adopted a resolution in 1997 condemning Baltimore-based Crown Central Petroleum for what it said were discriminatory actions toward its women, minority and union employees. Union workers remain locked out of a Crown Central refinery in Pasadena, Texas, and contract negotiations are stalled.

Some companies have sought to become corporate sponsors of the NAACP in an effort to avoid economic sanctions or negative publicity.

Ron Walters, a University of Maryland government professor, pointed to Eddie Bauer, accused of discriminating against a black customer in 1995 and ordered by a jury to pay $1 million. The clothing retailer has worked with the group in an effort to regain black consumers.

But the public will pay attention to only so many causes at once, and other groups are vying for attention. The NAACP is savvy enough to choose its targets carefully, said Chuck Stone, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, who has written three books on the black political experience.

"Boycotts and lawsuits are a last resort," he said. "The goal is to increase economic participation. Ultimately, the success of one group's action is hard to quantify."

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