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Cheers, Jeers Greet Daytona’s Handling Of Black College Reunion

Cheers, Jeers Greet Daytona’s Handling Of  Black College Reunion

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Officials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are praising local businesses for making Black College Reunion participants feel welcome here last month.
But the event left the owner of the Adam’s Mark luxury hotel chain wondering how he can guarantee the safety of his guests under restrictions imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Florida Attorney General’s office as part of a settlement of two discrimination lawsuits.
Adam’s Mark officials say they weren’t allowed to control who entered their Daytona Beach hotel during this year’s Black College Reunion because of a consent decree with the Justice Department.
As a result, hotel officials report that the lobby filled with an impassable crowd of more than 200 people that almost got out of control.
 “Look at this place. It’s a mess. You have an absolute disaster here,” said Fred Kummer, the company’s CEO and president. “I’m not running the hotel right now. The hotel is being run by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s office.”
Adam’s Marks officials eventually called sheriff’s deputies and police officers to the hotel to clear the lobby of visitors and limit entrance to key-carrying guests, only after receiving permission from federal and state officials monitoring the hotel for discrimination.
Ironically, the hotel’s efforts last year to restrict entrance to wristband-wearing guests contributed to the discrimination lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and five Black College Reunion guests. Evidence gathered by the NAACP was another factor that led to the lawsuits.
The Adam’s Mark recently settled the lawsuits for $8 million but admitted no wrongdoing (see Black Issues, April 13).
Under the consent decree, the Adam’s Mark is forbidden from imposing security measures during Black College Reunion that aren’t used for other special events, such as Bike Week and Speed Week.
Adam’s Mark officials should have done a better job of limiting who got into the hotel, says Cynthia Slater, a local NAACP official.
 “Just because you have a cloud over your head, you don’t let people tear up your place,” Slater says. “Their hands weren’t all-the-way tied.”
Justice Department lawyer Jennifer Jung wouldn’t comment, but Florida Deputy Attorney General George Sheldon said restricting the hotel to guests with keys doesn’t violate the consent decree.
Restaurants and stores that had closed for past Black College Reunions stayed open for business, making the visitors feel more welcome. The weekend also was free of past racial tensions.
“The attitude of the young people coming here was the best I’ve seen,” says Mayor Bud Asher. “They were polite and they cooperated with our police officers.”
But NAACP officials say police, on the other hand, cited visitors for minor infractions that would have been ignored at other events.
Officials with the civil rights group also say that they were unhappy that the city closed beachside streets when the same streets stay open during other special events, such as Bike Week and Speed Week.
In past years, dozens of Daytona Beach businesses have shut down during the annual three-day Black College Reunion, which attracts more than 100,000 people for a weekend of partying and cruising up beachside streets.
This year, only a handful of businesses were closed and many hotels and restaurants for the first time had signs welcoming Black College Reunion visitors.
Police at this year’s event arrested more than 500 people. But visitors say that in spite of the increased arrest count, police were friendlier than in years past.
“The police weren’t so bossy,” says Gerald Gales, a 20-year-old student from Birmingham, Ala.                     

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