COLUMBIA, S.C. – The NAACP said today that its economic boycott of South Carolina remains in force, despite comments to the contrary.

The organization imposed the ban in 2000 when lawmakers declined to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol. But, according to local news reports, state Sen. Robert Ford—who is Black—declared that this week’s meeting of the three Black Methodist churches in Columbia indicated that the sanctions were over. However, countered church and NAACP leaders, that’s not true.

“I’m here to set the record straight,” the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, vice president of stakeholder relations of the NAACP, told the Great Gathering assembly Monday. “Our sanctions are ongoing….If you want to know if the sanctions are over there’s a real simple test: when the flag comes down our sanctions stop.

“That flag represents tyranny, treason, hatred and the oppression of my people and I will die before I give up on tearing it down,” he added to a thundering applause.

The Rev. Staccato Powell, chairman of the Great Gathering as the meeting is called, added that Ford’s statements were prompted by his ambitions and not fact.

“Senator Ford speaks neither for the NAACP nor the Black Methodist churches,” he said in the opening press conference. “Senator Ford is an aspirant for the gubernatorial office in this state and so he does what he needs to do to capture media attention.”

So far, church leaders said, media attention to this issue has centered on rumors that the conference’s presence in South Carolina has been a slap in the face to the NAACP and has brewed discord between the groups.

“It’s the White media; they always engage in divide and conquer,” Powell told the AFRO. He added in other statements, “Our presence here is not in confrontation but in solidarity and we speak with a united voice with the NAACP.”

The Rt. Rev. John Bryant, senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said Black Methodist churches and the NAACP have always been in “lockstep” going back to the Niagara Movement, the precursor of the civil rights organization. Several church leaders have served as officers of the NAACP, including Bishop William Graves, senior prelate of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, who now serves on its board of directors.

“We just came from the national NAACP convention and the gift of Black Methodism was the largest gift that they received from the Black Church,” Bryant added. “We will not allow even the media itself to make it seem as if we are in opposition to the NAACP. We’re family.”

Rev. Rivers supported the claim, telling the AFRO, “There’s no controversy.” He said the denominations met with the NAACP and explained the circumstances that brought them to Columbia and that while their presence was “unfortunate,” it was also “fortuitous” since it would bring the issue back into the public eye.

“The Lord gave us a platform and opportunity,” he told the AFRO. “In a lot of ways it was fortuitous that so many are here so they can hear firsthand why the sanctions are important—they can see the flag for themselves—and why they need to stand with us.”

Still, the NAACP leader told the Methodist conclave, the organization would prefer that the churches help them keep pressure on the state by maintaining the boycott.

“While we understand why you’re here, we support what you’re trying to do, we’re asking you to make up your mind right now that you will not come back to South Carolina until they take that red rag down from in front of our building,” he said.

Powell said the three churches were in full support of that mission. “It is despicable that a symbol of racism still sits on the grounds of the capital of South Carolina and we will not rest until it is removed.”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO