The growing price of discrimination: several African American groups have canceled convention dates in California

The growing price of discrimination: several African American groups have canceled convention dates in California – protesting Gov. Pete Wilson’s negative stand on affirmative action programs in the state university system

Erin J. Aubry

The National Urban League’s decision to cancel its 1996 conference in Los Angeles because of California’s recent anti-affirmative-action policies is already reverberating–tarnishing the Golden State’s glittery image among African American conventioneers. Los Angeles and San Francisco were recently ranked by BE among the top 10 cities for black conventions. But that status, barring a dramatic reversal of political fortunes, could change permanently.

The Urban League’s announcement came in June after a flurry of anti-affirmative-action moves, including Gov. Pete Wilson’s striking down state affirmative-action edicts and the University of California regents’ voting to abolish its affirmative-action admissions policy.

On the heels of the Urban League decision, two major black legal organizations initiated similar boycotts. The National Bar Association canceled its 1997 convention in San Diego, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers pulled its October 1995 convention from Los Angeles and moved it to Washington. BE also decided to relocate this Labor Day Weekend’s BE/Pepsi Golf Tennis Challenge, scheduled to be held in LaQuinta, Calif.

The NCBL board of directors issued a statement declaring that their action was “taken in protest of the leading role California is playing, particularly through its governor, Pete Wilson, in dismantling measures designed to remedy race and gender discrimination and promoting policies that only support doctrines of white male supremacy.” The NBA echoed the same sentiments in its resolution, which “condemns all the efforts to eradicate and emasculate affirmative action in the state of California and throughout the country.”

NBA President Keith Watters said his members were in full support of canceling the organization’s 1997 San Diego date. “We think [affirmative action] is such an important issue that we’re willing to bear any financial burden that canceling might bring,” Watters says. “Wilson is playing politics with a very volatile issue. He has it all wrong. It makes no sense to attack programs that have by and large been successful. It’s a wrong approach to equal opportunity.”

The decisions will not only take a toll on California’s visitor-friendly image, but they will exact a financial price as well. An Urban League spokesman predicts that L.A. will lose out on roughly $12 million in revenues generated by 20,000 expected conventioneers to their conference. While such estimates, even coupled with losses incurred by NCBL, NBA and a few other pullouts, would hardly sink California’s already ailing economy, the collective impact of more cancellations could be considerable.

Officials at the Convention and Visitors Bureaus in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego are reporting no mass cancellations of black-sponsored events, but Rene Etienne of the Los Angeles Urban League says he is confident that that will change. “A lot of organizations haven’t moved on it yet,” says Etienne, vice president fund development for the L.A. Urban League. “It’s still early. The important thing is to keep this protest motion going … to keep it alive.”


Howard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was awarded more than $2 million in grants for faculty and student program support. The university received a total of five grants from the U.S. Department of Education and one from the Preparing Future Faculty project.

The Preparing Future Faculty project, a nationally sponsored grant in the amount of $170,000, was awarded by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools through the Pew Charitable Trust.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group