The Boycott That Isn’t — Yet
Rumors last month that Benedict College’s president was rallying his HBCU colleagues in South Carolina to join the NAACP’s boycott of that state have thwarted the alleged plan, at least temporarily
Columbia, S.C. — Apparently, word that South Carolina’s historically Black colleges and universities are joining the NAACP’s tourism boycott of the state over the prominent placement of the confederate flag atop state buildings is a bit premature.
A local newspaper here reported late last month that Dr. David H. Swinton, president of Benedict College, was calling for Black college presidents to sign a unanimous agreement to join the economic boycott announced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in July.
But a Benedict official — noting that The State newspaper based its story on a copy of a draft letter Swinton penned — says no final decision has been made on whether to join the boycott.
Economic experts say that should the state’s seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities band together and join the boycott, the financial impact would be significant.
“Our HBCUs, in terms of our economic impact, probably are the equivalent of the Fortune 500,” says Lucy Reuben, dean of the school of business at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
“Right now, this is all speculation,” says Benedict spokeswoman Kim Hunter, who complains The State created a story based more on rumor than fact. Swinton has declined to comment.
The newspaper reported that Swinton’s letter states: “We will not conduct or participate in board retreats, conferences, faculty and staff retreats, and homecoming activities at hotels, resorts, or other facilities within the state.”
He also suggests in it that Black college presidents ask alumni and friends of their institutions to only spend money on campus and not in the community and that the schools buy supplies and equipment from out of state.
Whether the Black college presidents will actually support such a boycott is unclear. Many of the state’s Black college presidents are closemouthed or appear to be backpeddling — if such a plan was ever discussed.
“We have not decided yet,” Leonard Dawson, president of Voorhees College in Denmark, told The State, adding that he wouldn’t have a problem holding administrative and trustee retreats out of state.
But a Voorhees spokesperson told Black Issues that The State article was premature, that no meeting had taken place between South Carolina’s Black college presidents and that Dawson had no further opinion on the matter.
Dr. Luns C. Richardson, president of Morris College, told a Sumter newspaper that any decision to participate in the boycott would be left up to the school’s owner, the Baptist Educational Missionary Convention of South Carolina.
In an interview with Black Issues, Richardson said he had received a call from Swinton but he hadn’t actually talked with him because he was out of town.
Cheryl Bates-Lee, director of news and communications at South Carolina State University, says that at this time, the school has no plans to participate in any boycott of the state. South Carolina State President Dr. Leroy Davis Sr. had no comment on The State article or the possible boycott.
Presidents from the state’s remaining HBCUs — Allen University, Claflin College and Denmark Technical College — could not be reached for comment.
Dr. Leonard Haynes, former acting president of Grambling University and a consultant for a Virginia-based accounting firm, estimates that the Black colleges in South Carolina contribute $350 to $500 million to the state’s economy.
“This set of institutions have a tremendous impact on the state, especially when you add their combined budgets and the goods and services they provide,” Haynes says.
Just one day after the story appeared in The State, several Black organizations based in South Carolina announced their support of the NAACP boycott.
Black fraternities and sororities will not host Greekfest South Carolina in the state capitol as planned unless the confederate flag comes down. Additionally, Heritage Days, an annual three-day festival celebrating the Sea Islands’ Black culture, was canceled because of the boycott.
The NAACP’s proposed national boycott — to begin on Jan. 1 and last until the confederate flag that flies above the statehouse is removed — is expected to be approved by the national board Oct. 16. An estimated $280 million a year in Black tourism dollars could be at stake for South Carolina if the boycott takes place.
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