Bolton: Boycott becoming less attractive
By WARREN BOLTON – Associate Editor

THERE THEY go again — the NAACP boycott and the Confederate flag slapping South Carolina in the face.

This time, it’s over an attempt to bring the 2011-2013 Atlantic Coast Conference baseball tournaments to Myrtle Beach. The ACC apparently made the offer because it was led to believe that, at least along the Grand Strand, it was OK with the NAACP. But state NAACP officials quickly called foul and had discussions with the ACC that led the league to strip the beach of the lucrative deal and give it to two N.C. communities.

Enough is enough.

The Confederate flag must be removed from the State House grounds, and the NAACP’s boycott needs to end.

I don’t care which goes first.

Whether it’s the Confederate flag scaring away events, business or new residents or the NAACP strong-arming the NCAA and robbing cities of big-time sports events, neither moves South Carolina forward.

Some might read the ACC’s rejection of Myrtle Beach as a sign of the strength of the NAACP’s sanctions. Don’t be so sure. The fact that someone inside the NAACP on the local level was willing to defy the boycott as well as the ACC’s willingness to make the offer without going the extra mile to ensure it indeed was OK with the state NAACP is telling.

It appears that the NAACP’s sanctions, which have been effective only when it comes to keeping big college sports events out of the state, are losing some steam — from both within and without.

Why? First, many people, even lots of African-Americans, who agree with the NAACP’s call for the flag to come off the State House grounds don’t agree with the boycott.

More importantly, many are concerned about the hurt the recession is putting on our state. It may well be that pure economics trumps the economic boycott.

When you consider how hard the coast has been hit with foreclosures, it’s understandable that people in that community would be looking for a boost such as the ACC tournament. Myrtle Beach was awarded the tournament after it got letters of endorsement from Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach NAACP chapter, and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.

It’s nothing new for Mr. Clyburn to buck the boycott. In 2002, he and then-state Sen. Kay Patterson, both lifetime members of the NAACP, fell into the bad graces of the state NAACP because they helped get the hip-hop group OutKast to perform at Columbia’s 3 Rivers Music Festival; the NAACP had lobbied the group not to come.

Taken alone, the ACC story might be a blip on the screen.

But consider this: When the Legislature returns in January, a House committee will take up a resolution, pushed by African-American members of the House, that would petition the NCAA to choose Columbia — and the Colonial Life Arena — as the site of a basketball regional or Final Four.

While state Rep. Chris Hart is the primary sponsor, practically every member of the House, including black lawmakers who opposed the flag compromise, has signed on to the resolution. Whether everyone will vote for the measure remains to be seen.

Rep. Hart said his motivation is to spur economic development. “We’re missing out,” he said, adding that the dollars and notoriety that an NCAA event would bring to Columbia would be a tremendous boost.

“I thought about the boycott,” Mr. Hart said. “I’m trying to come at it from a different strategy.”

“I’m thinking if I do this it’s going to force people to talk about why we can’t get this NCAA tournament,” he said.

He said he understands where the NAACP is coming from and that he doesn’t think the flag should be on the grounds. But, at the moment, there’s no appetite to revisit the matter. “I’m ready to move forward.”

That’s the direction Rep. Anton Gunn wants to move in as well. “We’ve got the third-worst economy in the country as a state right now,” he said.

The Richland County lawmaker said he has been traveling to different states recently, watching as others take advantage of their assets and resources to bolster their economies. “That’s more important to me right now, is to figure out how we can jump start the economy in this state.”

Mr. Gunn said he too understands the NAACP’s position, but that if he had to list the top 25 issues in South Carolina, the flag wouldn’t rank. “I understand it’s a symbol and a vestige of slavery. I’d rather fight for people getting a job,” he said. “What’s important is that we find ways to save people’s homes, save their livelihoods and create opportunities for other people.”

Richland Rep. Joe McEachern said other cities and states use the boycott to lure economic opportunities away from South Carolina. “You’ve got to look at it from a holistic perspective and not to harm those people you’re trying to help,” he said. “We’re in a situation now that we need all that we can get.”

Make no mistake. Despite the compromise that removed it from the dome and placed it at a monument, the flag still embodies an ideology that is offensive to many people, black and white. It hearkens to a time during which it was OK to disenfranchise and mistreat African-Americans, who now make up one-third of this state’s population.

It has no business on the people’s front lawn, sending the wrong message both inside and outside of South Carolina. Lawmakers — compelled by this state’s people — must find the appetite to move it to a museum, sooner rather than later.

Still, I can’t argue for a continued boycott of South Carolina. The boycott has been in place for nearly 10 years. It’s done nothing to persuade lawmakers to remove the flag. As a matter of fact, it’s emboldened many flag supporters.

Plain and simple, like the flag, the boycott harms instead of healing.

That’s a lose-lose proposition.

On The Web:   www.thestate.com/bolton/story/865747.html