01 Mar 2002 NAACP Boycott Over Flag Hurts Struggling Black Resort Community, by Kimberley Wilson
Atlantic Beach needs help. Along with Eatonville, Florida, Atlantic Beach, South Carolina is one of the last remaining chartered predominately black towns in America. Located on the coastline, it earned the nickname of the “Black Pearl of the Grand Strand.” Once upon a time, it really was.
Founded by blacks in the 1930s, it was the place for black professionals to relax and vacation when Myrtle Beach was off-limits to blacks because of segregation. When integration finally came, many rushed to visit and spend their dollars in Myrtle Beach. Atlantic Beach was almost forgotten.
Mayor Irene Armstrong and the Atlantic Beach City Council are fighting to bring the town back to economic life. A huge part of this plan is the revenue they could earn from the annual Black Bikers Week. During the festival, the black bikers spend about $40 million in their pursuit of a good time. This year, things will be different. The NAACP’s call for a boycott of the state is still on. In support of the boycott, a number of bike clubs announced they are going to Maryland or Virginia Beach instead.
The NAACP originally called for a boycott of South Carolina because the Confederate Battle Flag flew over the state capitol dome. The flag came down, but it is still on capitol grounds. The NAACP is continuing the boycott. This year, the NAACP is setting up “border patrols” at the state’s rest stops to convince tourists to turn back or keep driving through.
Jesse Jackson, a native of Greenville, South Carolina, says the boycott is about dignity. NAACP officials say they know black businesses have been and will continue to be hurt by the boycott which, depending on whom you talk to, has cost the state between $15 million and $20 million in lost revenue. They believe everyone must suffer for the greater good.
Tell that to Mayor Armstrong and the 450 residents of Atlantic Beach as their revitalization efforts go down the drain.
I recently went to Myrtle Beach to give a speech to a women’s organization. While I was there, my husband and I asked attendees, hotel guests and hotel employees what they thought about the NAACP’s border patrols. Nobody, black or white, thought it was a good idea. The young black waitress who served me breakfast on Saturday worried how she was going to pay her bills since she relies heavily on the tips tourists leave. On the trip home, we stopped on Highway 501 to buy homemade ice cream from a middle-aged black woman who grumbled that the NAACP should do something about black SAT scores or the number of pregnancies among black teens. Later, an elderly black farmer who sold me sweet potatoes and peanuts noted that he used to make a nice bit of money selling to tourists. All these people derive their economic livelihood from tourism, and they didn’t seem to be in the mood for suffering.
The NAACP is supposed to be about advancement, but the organization’s leadership doesn’t seem to care about ordinary, everyday black people anymore. The only cause I see it is advancing seems to be it’s own.
This summer, I’m going back to South Carolina. Most of my family lives there. My father, grandparents and just about every ancestor I know of are buried there. Some of my elderly relatives are in fragile heath, and it’s better I visit them sooner rather than later. When I get there, I’ll do the same things I always do when I’m in South Carolina. I’ll buy chicken hash and boiled peanuts from the little carryout up the road from my aunt’s house. I’ll buy Cooter stew from whoever’s holding a fundraiser (if you don’t know what Cooter is you probably don’t want me to tell you). I will also go to Atlantic Beach to buy all the silly little beach doodads that seem to vanish at the end of each summer.
Will the border patrols work? I doubt it. Nobody who’s just spent several long hours on the road is going to turn around because a NAACP volunteer tells them to do so. Some people will feel intimidated, but others are going to be angry. Most will either ignore the NAACP or avoid the rest stops altogether.
Harassing tourists on their way to the beaches and golfers on their way to the links is not the way for the NAACP to make its point. Helping to slap the predominantly-black Atlantic Beach down just as it’s is trying to rise again is not the way to do it either.
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.