Some in NAACP question boycott of S.C.

Protest against Confederate flags has hurt some black business owners

October 09, 2006|By McClatchy Newspapers

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- For Kitty Green, the NAACP's call for an economic boycott of the state seven years ago was a "slap in the face."

While the teacher-turned-entrepreneur supports the civil rights organization's effort to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, the sanctions hit her business hard.

Now some members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are questioning whether it's good policy to continue the boycott. In 2000, the flag was moved from atop the State House dome to a monument in front of the capitol, and there's no plan to move it again.

NAACP President and CEO Bruce S. Gordon met behind closed doors recently with black legislators and rank-and-file members.

Members say Gordon, who has led the NAACP since June 2005, solicited their thoughts about the sanctions. Gordon also told them they would hear back from him after he and his staff review the boycott - and the issue behind it: the Confederate flag.

No lawmaker has given any indication the legislature has new interest in the issue, and only the legislature has the power to address it.

The boycott has been in effect since July 1999, when the state NAACP called for it as a protest of the flags atop the State House, and inside the House and Senate chambers. The boycott called on people to avoid traveling to the state for business or pleasure, and discouraged residents from visiting South Carolina beaches or patronizing restaurants and motels.

The compromise that resulted in moving the flag to the Confederate Soldier's Monument did not satisfy the NAACP, which has continued the boycott.

NAACP members and legislators who met with Gordon have been tight-lipped about the discussions.

"It was an excellent meeting," said state Rep. David Mack, who is chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. "We don't want to get into any of the details," he said, adding there could be strategic adjustments made to the policy.

That comes late, though, for business owners like Green, caught in crossfire of the boycott.

Green said it took years of building and grooming her business, Kitty Green Gullah-N-Geechie Mahn Tours, then more years of marketing it to tourists, to finally reach the brink of success before the boycott.

When her business opened in 1992, Green's tours of plantations, old praise houses and a number of structures built by slaves were competing for elusive tourist dollars with a surging interest in golf. Green said that by 1999 her business finally had received much-needed support from those who pushed South Carolina tourism.

Because African-Americans were getting only a small piece of the tourism pie anyway, Green said, the boycott hurt them even more.

"I wish they had looked at the impact on businesses like mine" before calling the boycott, she said, adding that her revenues are just now returning to pre-boycott levels.

Despite the sanctions, the direct impact of travelers on South Carolina's economy has grown from $7.5 billion in 2000 to $10.9 billion last year, according to the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.

The return of tourist dollars to the state has left some wondering whether the NAACP's call to action is serving any purpose. Black business owners are torn over loyalty, pride and the need to survive.

"I don't think a lot of people are paying attention to it," said James Williams, a minister, undertaker and executive board member of the NAACP's Sumter branch. "They are not concerned about the Confederate flag."

Williams, who thinks the boycott should end, says the overall economic effect on South Carolina has been minimal. The greatest impact, he said, has been the emotional one, in which many South Carolinians want to honor the NAACP's position on the issue but find the boycott to be troublesome.

"Any objective person would have to agree that once the Confederate flag came off the [State House] dome, many people saw that as the end of the road," said Bruce Ransom, a Clemson University political scientist. "They said, `Let's put this thing to bed,' thinking that the NAACP had gotten what they asked for."

Ransom said if the organization is reassessing the boycott and the Confederate flag issue, it doesn't mean the group has lost or nor that it is backing down.

"The NAACP has had a long history of striving to achieve something even when it looks as though it is not achievable," he said.

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