On April 26th, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) announced that a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina restaurant has settled a federal lawsuit filed by the NAACP and others after several restaurants allegedly refused to open during the annual Memorial Day weekend Atlantic Beach Bike Festival attended primarily by African American motorcycle enthusiasts.
J. Edward Fleming, the owner of J. Edward's Great Ribs and More, and the plaintiffs agreed on a settlement that will keep the restaurant open during the annual event called Black Bike Week. The lawsuit was filed by the national NAACP, the NAACP Conway (SC) Branch and eight individuals against J. Edward Fleming, the owner of J. Edward's Great Ribs and More. Similar lawsuits against other area restaurants, Damon's Oceanfront, Damon's Barefoot Landing and Greg Norman's Australian Grille, are still outstanding.
NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo said: "This settlement is a positive sign that all parties, consumers, advocates and businesses can work together to ensure that the rights of African American tourists are respected and that their business is welcomed."
Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants closed the restaurants during "Black Bike Week, but remained open during another May motorcycle event at Myrtle Beach attended by mostly white visitors and motorcyclists.
In a federal Consent Decree and order, Fleming, the owner and operator of the restaurant bearing his name, denied the allegation that the decision to close the restaurants was based on race. Rather, the defendant owner contends that the decision was motivated by business considerations and the difficulty in getting staff to work because of the gridlock traffic during Black Bike Week.
The parties voluntarily negotiated the settlement, with each party recognizing that the ultimate result of this litigation cannot be predicted with certainty and that continuation of the litigation would involve substantial legal fees and costs. Further, the meetings between the parties revealed the existence of shared principles and common goals, notwithstanding the existence of evidence that might support the litigation position of each party.
The defendants agreed to open from 3:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, for all days of the Black Bike Week event. Under terms of the agreement, defendants will use objective nondiscriminatory standards in deciding whether J. Edward's or any other restaurant owned and operated by defendant owner will remain open during the period of special events in the Myrtle Beach area. Special events that are attended primarily by African Americans shall be evaluated in the same manner as events attended primarily by white persons, and race may play no part in the decision-making process.
Defendants agreed to post "Welcome Bikers," or a similar welcome sign, on the marquee in front of J. Edward's during all days of Black Bike Week to encourage and attract attendees of the event to dine at the restaurant.
The Consent Decree and Order filed in U.S. District Court in Florence, South Carolina, has been approved by the Court and is effective immediately. It shall remain in effect for a period of three years and six months from the date it was approved.
The NAACP is also seeking a federal injunction against the City of Myrtle Beach to stop it from using a restrictive one-way traffic pattern along a major City boulevard over Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day weekend is the only time each year when the tourists in the city are predominantly black and the only weekend when the city implements a restrictive traffic plan requiring all traffic to travel one-way for 60 blocks.
In addition to the NAACP legal staff, the plaintiffs were represented by the Washington, D.C. and Miami offices of Hogan & Hartson, LLP, the Charleston firm of Derfner, Altman & Wilborn and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
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