Politics & Government

NAACP renews call for economic boycott of S.C.

The Confederate flag that flutters 30 feet above one of Columbia's busiest streets still draws a mix of head shakes and shrugs from S.C. residents.

Some are upset the banner was removed from atop the State House dome eight years ago. Some say they like it in its current spot beside a memorial to Confederate soldiers. And some echo a recent call by the NAACP for the banner to be removed from state property altogether.

“I used to have to crane my neck to see it,” said Hester Ellerbee, a black woman from Cheraw who visits the city three times a month. “Now it's right there in front of you.”

The NAACP at its national convention this week renewed its call for an economic boycott of South Carolina. Since 1999, the civil rights organization has encouraged family reunions, sporting events and entertainers to stay away from the state.

“We are a patient organization. We've been working for 100 years doing this. And as is always the case, outside pressure is the only way South Carolina ever gets anything accomplished,” said Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

But in the normally laid-back state, where a rare outbreak of protests and marches helped force the flag from its prominent perch in 2000, there appears to be little popular support for another push.

“It will take the next generation of lawmakers to resolve the issue,” says state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a black Democrat from Orangeburg.

The NAACP and other critics call the Confederate battle flag a symbol of slavery and racism. Advocates say it is an emblem of Southern pride and heritage.

The flag was hoisted above the State House in 1962. Several efforts in the 1990s to move it failed. By 2000, opinions started to turn. With support from the state's business community, people took to the streets in a spurt of activism considered unusual for the state.

When the flag was moved, much of the steam went out of the protests. While the NAACP continues to press for an economic boycott, state tourism officials say measuring any effect is difficult. They said the rate of growth for South Carolina's $16 billion tourist industry appeared to slow in the first years after the boycott began, but has since rebounded.

Eight years later, Williams is back playing tennis in the state, winning the Family Circle Cup in Charleston in 2008. The S.C. Chamber of Commerce reports hearing few complaints from businesses about the flag. Democrats held a critical presidential primary this year in South Carolina and the flag received less attention than in years past.

Even the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which countered the protests of 2000 with their own demonstrations in support of the banner, likes the way things are.

“Once the Senate and the House spoke and exerted the will of the people through their representatives, we accepted it. You don't see us out there protesting at the African American history monument,” said Don Gordon, chairman of the group's S.C. heritage defense committee.

Former Gov. Jim Hodges, who was in office when the flag was lowered from the dome, said he thinks S.C. South Carolina residents yet to be born will look at the flag one day and decide it doesn't belong.

“I think when it finally comes down, it will be with a whimper and not a bang,” Hodges said.