28 August 2009
Lonnie Randolph, president of the NAACP in South Carolina, made a compelling argument to the Convocation. “I’ve lived there 60 years,” he said. “I’ve been a member of the NAACP for 50 years. I’ve been marching 50 years. There’s just as much to march about today. The flag was first placed above the state capitol to protest the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is a symbol of one of the most racist organizations in America. This matter is serious. We are fighting for simple truths. Your support will help strengthen us.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 500 extremist, racist hate groups have appropriated the Confederate flag as one of their symbols.
Although accommodation contracts had been signed and promotion had begun, once petitioned by the NAACP to join its economic boycott, all plans were off. They join several major denominations, including the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, and Catholic churches, which refuse to hold conventions or meetings in South Carolina.
This comes on the heels of the Atlantic Coast Conference reneging on an agreement to play the league baseball tournament in Myrtle Beach for three consecutive years beginning in 2011. Many believe the decisions by major organizations to avoid South Carolina renders the boycott effective, arguing that even if it is only one dollar that has been kept out of the South Carolina economy, the NAACP’s fight is worthwhile.
And the battles rage on – one over the flag and one over the boycott. The initial boycott instituted by the SC NAACP drew wide support from inside and outside the state, but encouragement for the ongoing effort has waned in recent years. Many find the target of the boycott too nebulous to be effective. With the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, and a legislature distracted by leadership woes, accommodations and food services represents almost 10% of all industry employment in South Carolina – many of whom are African American.
To those who believe the NAACP’s fight is for naught and should be abandoned, Randolph responds, “If Rosa Parks had given up the fight, do you think that Montgomery would have ever desegregated their bus rides?”
Perhaps not, but that was over a half a century ago and the target of the boycott was clear. The Montgomery public transit system was rendered financially crippled. Indeed the courageous men and women who refused to ride the bus from December 1, 1955, to December 20, 1956 and chose to walk in sweltering heat and freezing rains led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional. The questions remains, will the NAACP economic boycott against the state produce the votes that will lead to legislation to remove the flag?
Speaking in Georgia in 1962, Dr. King espoused, “You can’t win against a political structure where you don’t have the votes. But you can win against an economic power structure when you have the... power to make the difference between a merchant’s profit and loss.”
Identifying the businesses that contribute to the campaigns of the politicians who support the flag would be one way to personalize the opposition. This information could easily be gleaned and cross-referenced from the SC Ethics Commission’s database. The names of these businesses and businesspeople who support the flag could be made available to an eager public and then individuals could show their support for the NAACP boycott by refusing to do business with said contributors.
Relocating the flag to Memorial Park located at the corner of Gadsden & Hampton Streets – just a half a mile from the statehouse – would be the appropriate venue for the flag. There stand our city’s memorials in honor of those who have lost their lives in battle. The fatalities of the Vietnam War, the Korean War and World War II are all remembered with monuments and tributes.
This painful reminder of the past on grounds that should represent all of the population stands testament that SC remains mired in a convoluted dedication to hatred and oppression. Regardless of the wisdom of a statewide economic boycott, the fight must rage on to remove the flag from the statehouse and its grounds once and truly, for all. •