NAACP Requests Preliminary Injunction Against Myrtle Beach

On February 24th, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)asked a U.S. District Court in South Carolina to stop the City of Myrtle Beach from using a restrictive one-way traffic pattern along a major City boulevard over Memorial Day weekend. This is the only weekend each year when the majority of tourists in the City are African American and the only weekend each year when the City implements a restrictive traffic plan requiring all traffic to travel one-way for 60 blocks.

Each year, in May, two large motorcycle rallies are held in the Myrtle Beach area. In mid-May, thousands of predominately white motorcyclists and tourists come to Myrtle Beach for an event known as "Harley Week." A week later, over Memorial Day weekend, a similar number of black tourists attend a similar motorcycle rally in the Myrtle Beach area, known as "Black Bike Week." The treatment of the tourists for each event is starkly different.

The white Harley Week tourists are wholeheartedly welcomed by the Myrtle Beach government, businesses, and community leaders. When the black tourists arrive, restaurants close, hotels implement special policies, and the City restricts travel along the main drag of Myrtle Beach — Ocean Boulevard, which is converted into an oppressive one-way traffic pattern that restricts traffic with limited exit points. The City's police department also deploys triple the number of police officers to enforce a one-time "zero tolerance" policy aimed at black tourists.

The plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is the latest court action taken by the Conway (S.C.) Branch of the NAACP and other African American tourists since filing the civil rights lawsuit against the City in 2003. In advance of Memorial Day Weekend in 2005, the motion for preliminary injunction focuses on the traffic pattern along Ocean Boulevard and asks the Court to stop the City from using this restrictive one-way traffic pattern for Memorial Day Weekend.

Dennis Hayes, NAACP Interim President & CEO, said: "The NAACP has been fighting for public accommodation laws since the 1930's and we're going to continue to fight until we make democracy work for all under our constitution.

The Rev. Kenneth Floyd, president, the Conway (S.C.) Branch NAACP, said: "The only thing that we are seeking is equal justice for all people regardless of race, creed or color. Closing the restaurants and certain parts of the streets when the majority of tourists in town are Black is simply wrong. That is racism at its worse and we will not tolerate it."

Angela Ciccolo, NAACP Interim General Council, said, "African American motorcyclists and tourists deserve the same rights accorded all citizens."

According to the memorandum in support of the motion for an injunction, "A number of direct statements made by city officials show that race played an illegal role in the city's decision to deploy a one-way traffic pattern" during Black Bike Week. Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride testified during his deposition that the city "welcomes" white tourists during Harley Week, and tries to "discourage" the Black Bike Week tourists from visiting.

McBride said he does not consider the African American tourists to be law-abiding. He testified: "They want to disregard the law and sit on the tops of their car and smoke dope and drink and do whatever they want to and disregard everything." In contrast to the Black Bike Week tourists, McBride testified that "when you, you tell a group of white youth to behave or you're going to jail, for the most part, they behave…."

Last year, the NAACP also filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against four Myrtle Beach area restaurants accused of discriminating against African American tourists. According to the lawsuit, the restaurants closed Memorial Day weekend when a large number of African-Americans visited Myrtle Beach.

The lawsuit against the City of Myrtle Beach was filed on behalf of the NAACP Conway Branch by the law firms of Derfner, Altman & Wilborn, LLC; Steptoe & Johnson, LLP; and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

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