By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
I called down to Mayor Suarez before Mandela's visit to ask him what type of welcome Mandela would get, whether there was a proclamation in the works, that sort of thing. Same thing with [Metro-Dade] Mayor Steve Clark. We warned them before Mandela arrived of the consequences, so it's not as though they were blindsided. To this date I have not received a response to either letter or either call. No call, no fax, no letter, or anything to say, "We disagree with you," or what. That's symptomatic of the disrespect my community gets.
Have you contacted Suarez or Clark since the boycott began?
I have not contacted Mayor Suarez or Mayor Clark. I don't intend to. Until they respond to my initial correspondence, and acknowledge I am a human being, I will not contact them.
How did the boycott begin?
After the Mandela fiasco, in my judgment, Miami was ready to explode. The least little thing could have caused it to go up. While we were wrangling around trying to come up with an appropriate response, we had the incident with the Haitians. We felt - when I say we, I mean lawyers, accountants, shirt-and-tie-wearing black folks - we felt it was very important that we find a nonviolent way to release this frustration, but be effective, too - not just provide some symbolic gesture like going down and standing in front of Mayor Suarez's office.
I had been, along with others, instrumental in bringing the National Bar Association convention to Miami in 1994. Having been contacted by a lawyer before Mandela's visit who said, "I don't feel welcome if Mandela isn't welcomed," and having been contacted by a member of the National Medical Association who said the same thing, the idea hit me. Fine. Let's move our convention out of Miami, because if Mandela's not welcome, we're not welcome.
Being the kind of person that I am, I believe in leading by example. When the [National Bar Association] host committee met, a lot of people said, "Let's go to some local organizations and ask them to organize this effort." Several of us said, "Look, let's put our money where our mouth is" - let's move first and then ask them to join us. Let's not go asking these people to step out, because they're going to say, "You lawyers, all you ever do is talk anyway. You all haven't done very much except stay in your highfalutin offices downtown and make a lot of money and drive your BMWs home to the suburbs."
We decided to lead by example. I mean, why did Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat on a bus start the civil-rights movement? I don't know. It was spontaneous civil rights combustion. This was spontaneous economic combustion.
Before we could even contact other organizations, they began calling us, saying, "Hey, we want to join the boycott too. We feel the same way you do." Omega Psi Phi fraternity canceled its 1991 international leadership conference. Right on the heels of that, the National Medical Association canceled. We then got a list of convention schedules through 1999 and sent out information to them about what was going on. The response was overwhelmingly supportive. We thought we would have to sell it. We didn't have to sell it. They said to us, "Hey! What do we have to do to join?"
Why was that? Had they seen coverage of Mandela's trip to Miami on television?
Right. People around the country were saying, "What in hell is wrong with your town?" Mandela met with [British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher, who had called him a terrorist. She was civilized and performed her duty. He met with the pope. He met with Bush, who doesn't like him but who carried out his duty. He was one of four people [in history] who addressed a joint session of Congress, and you saw the kind of welcome he got in other places. Other people were saying to us, "What's wrong with you black folks down there? You let your leaders do that to you and you don't do anything about it?" Then local black people got embarrassed and said, "Hey, yeah, we got to do something about this." It was an international embarrassment.
It was something that didn't need any debate or much background information, because everybody saw it happen. And then couple that with the fact that blacks have been boycotted for the past twenty years by the whole Southern tourist industry - and anybody who goes to the hotels can see it - and then the Haitian incident that was well publicized here, though it wasn't well publicized other places. We went to a television station and got the tapes, and we began sending out tapes to national black organizations so they could see the beatings. It was deja vu. A lot of us had gone through that in the 1960s, or so it seemed.
With those three unrebutted reasons for boycotting, everybody moved in. If we had said that the city administration is racist, well, you can't prove that. It's subjective. We're boycotting because, one, it was disgraceful the way they treated Mandela. "Right on," people said, "I saw it." Two, they've been boycotting blacks in the tourist industry for twenty years. People said, "Yeah, I went down to the Fontainebleau, I didn't see any black people working there." There's a recent study by the NAACP that supports that, and we also sent that out to the black organizations. And three, the disgraceful beating of Haitians. "Well, I didn't see that." Here's the tape. "Wow! I don't believe this!" It wasn't subjective - it was objective evidence supported by people other than us. And the response was phenomenal. I never could have dreamed it would catch on this fast.