Four Myrtle Beach Area Restaurants Sued For Discrimination

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and several individual plaintiffs filed federal civil rights class action lawsuits on May 26th against four Myrtle Beach area restaurants. They include Damon's Grill, Greg Norman's Australian Grill, J. Edward's Great Ribs & More and Fleming's. The restaurants are accused of closing over Memorial Day weekend last year when a large number of African-Americans visited Myrtle Beach for the annual "Black Bike Week."

Each May, two large motorcycle rallies are held in Myrtle Beach. In mid-May, thousands of predominately white bikers attend the annual "Harley Week."Over the Memorial Day weekend, a similar motorcycle event, "Black Bike Week,"attracts predominately black motorcyclists. The lawsuit charges that treatment of the participants in the two events by local restaurants and businesses is starkly different. The local government, businesses and community leaders welcome the white motorcyclists, but when the black bikers arrive, restaurants close, some hotels implement special oppressive rules, and the city and police purposefully restrict travel in Myrtle Beach. The police triple the number of officers to enforce a one-time "zero tolerance"police aimed at black visitors.

The restaurants identified in the lawsuits were closed during the 2003 "Black Bike Week"despite the fact that the NAACP and individuals filed discrimination complaints with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission. The complaint alleges the restaurants engaged in a systematic pattern of closing when the predominantly African-American crowd came to town.

NAACP President and CEO, Kweisi Mfume, said: "In this day and age, you would think that business owners realize that discrimination is not just illegal, but also immoral. It's bad for business and bad for America. In Myrtle Beach, these restaurants are clearly not making good business sense. They are in effect reducing profit and losing market share because of their stereotypical and prejudiced attitudes about black people. That kind of discrimination can't hold up in a court of law."

J. Edward Fleming, the owner of both J. Edward's Great Ribs & More and Fleming's, has explicitly expressed disdain for the black patrons who would frequent his restaurants during "Black Bike Week."Fleming continues to close his restaurants, citing traffic issues. However, Fleming regularly keeps his restaurants open during Harley Week and other high-volume, dense traffic times of the year.

Damon's Grill closed its two locations during "Black Bike Week"for the past eight years. Following discrimination complaints filed with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission, Greg Norman's Australian Grill is scheduled to open during this year's "Black Bike Week"for the first time since 1999.

The class action cases filed against the restaurants follow last year's filing of two other federal lawsuits involving discrimination during "Black Bike Week."On May 20, 2003, the Conway Branch NAACP and more than 25 individuals filed lawsuits alleging race discrimination by a hotel, the city, county and police during "Black Bike Week."

The new cases are being litigated by civil rights organizations, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the NAACP Legal Department; two Washington, D.C. law firms, Hogan & Hartson and Rose & Rose; and Derfner, Altman & Wilborn of South Carolina.

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