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Black Leaders Plan to Call Off San Diego Tourism Boycott

November 20, 1987|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | Times Staff Writer

Local black leaders plan to call off a nationwide boycott of San Diego tourism that they initiated more than two weeks ago after a vote to strip the name of Martin Luther King Jr. from a major downtown thoroughfare and reinstate the name of Market Street, sources close to the boycott effort have told The Times.

The announcement--scheduled to be made today in a speech at the Catfish Club by Urban League President Herb L. Cawthorne--is a response to acknowledgements from San Diego business leaders that the black community was deeply hurt by the vote, as well as promises from corporate leaders that they would raise money for a private memorial to the slain civil rights leader, the sources said.

Black leaders had said they would try to persuade groups to cancel convention plans for San Diego as a protest against the vote. As of Thursday, however, San Diego convention officials said they have yet to have any group cancel their convention plans because of the Market Street vote.

Asked Thursday about the end of the boycott effort, Cawthorne would only hint broadly at the possibility.

"I cannot be specific until tomorrow at the Catfish Club, however I will say that the goal of the . . . boycott was to ensure that the dignity of Dr. King would not be swung through the mud again.

"If there is sufficient confidence that the corporate leaders mean business (about the memorial), and I believe they do, there will be a reciprocal expression of good will from this community," he said.

Vote to Establish Committee

However, sources who asked not to be identified said Cawthorne would announce the suspension of the boycott while final plans for the private memorial are hammered out between black leaders and the business community.

Business leaders took their first official step toward creating the memorial on Thursday morning when Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce board members voted unanimously to establish "a prominent committee of diverse individuals" to raise money and select a site for the monument.

The size of the committee is undetermined, but several civic leaders have already volunteered to serve, said Bill Nelson, Chamber board president.

Among those volunteering, said Nelson, have been Kim Fletcher, chairman of Home Federal Savings & Loan; Gordon Luce, chairman of Great American First Savings Bank, and Herb Klein, editor-in-chief of the Copley newspapers.

"The specific goal is to identify and bring into fruition a suitable memorial to Dr. King," Nelson said. "But the real task is deeper and that is to get people in the broader community into these deeper issues--the feeling of the black community of being alienated and disenfranchised.

"That's not a good situation in a human sense and it's not a good situation in a business sense," Nelson said.

Recognizing 'Depth of Pain'

Cawthorne, who addressed the Chamber board Thursday morning, said the establishment of the private committee shows that the business community recognizes the "depth of pain" felt among area blacks over the Market Street vote.

By a 60% majority, San Diegans voted on Nov. 3 to approve Proposition F, an initiative that stripped King's name from 6 1/2 miles of roadway that starts at the bayfront and runs along a predominantly low-income, minority section of the city. The measure reinstated the name of Market Street, which has been used on the roadway since 1915.

Black leaders immediately decried the vote as racist and organized a protest march, which drew between 1,000 and 1,500 people on Nov. 8.

The depth of pain in the black community "goes back further than just this (the Market Street) vote," Cawthorne said.

"It goes back to Sagon Penn, it goes back to the Sy Murray situation, it goes back to education, jobs in the community," he said.

Sagon Penn, a black youth, was acquitted of attempted murder and other charges in two trials after he shot and killed one police officer and wounded another in a scuffle in March, 1985. During two jury trials, witnesses said Penn was provoked into the attack by one of the officers, who beat him with a night stick and yelled racial slurs.

Former San Diego City Manager Sylvester Murray, the first black to hold the position, was fired in October, 1986, after he created a furor when The Times published comments he made to a reporter that he had an "orgasm" being the boss of police. Council members said they fired him because of his management style.

Cawthorne also emphasized Thursday that business leaders never required that the black community drop its call for a boycott as a condition for forming the private committee.

Although the boycott failed to produce any cancellations, Cawthorne said it was successful in the short term.

"The pressure that was felt, I believe, was a moral pressure," Cawthorne said. "They saw when we instituted the boycott just how deeply it hurt. That's what I believe is creating the environment for the (Chamber) response."

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