Monday, May 27, 2024

NAACP president on Florida advisory for Black people: ‘Travel at your own risk’

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, is telling Black Americans to “travel at your own risk” to Florida after the civil rights organization’s National Board of Directors issued a rare advisory for Black travelers. 

The nation’s oldest civil rights organization issued the action against the state Saturday in what they believe will be a “protracted and prolonged fight.”

Derrick Johnson speaks at a community meeting, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

The latest action from the NAACP is a deliberate pushback against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican state leadership, who have effectively banned race and diversity in public classrooms. 

President Johnson made clear the travel memo is an advisory and not a Florida travel ban, telling theGrio, “We can’t abandon Floridians.” However, if one must visit the state, he says, “Go in mind with support of the Black community; engage civically and pass out banned books.”

Johnson said, “race is being used as a powerful tool” in the current political climate in Florida.

DeSantis, who is expected to announce his run for president on Wednesday, has become a dominant antagonist to the left with his “anti-woke” policies, including a ban on advanced placement of African-American studies courses in the state’s public schools. 

The far-right conservative governor is also in an active public-private battle with Disney, one of the largest employers and tourism magnets in the Sunshine State – a quarrel ignited by DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

Despite the culture war going on in Florida, Johnson said Floridians must remain focused on “outcomes, and the outcome here is the next election cycle.”

The NAACP’s tax status does not allow them to endorse candidates; however, the civil rights group is encouraging Black people and allies of the organization to vote “in larger numbers than we have ever done in that state.”

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA – MAY 13: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an Iowa GOP reception on May 13, 2023 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Although he has not yet announced his candidacy, Gov. DeSantis has received the endorsement of 37 Iowa lawmakers for the Republican presidential nomination next year. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Due to a lawsuit in the 1970s, the organization’s board makes the final decision on any request for direct action. These deliberate board votes stem from the group’s call for a boycott of white merchants in Port Gibson, Mississippi, over discriminatory business practices in the 1960s. The board’s current approval of the Florida travel advisory is meant to lessen any potential liability. 

Leon W. Russell, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, made clear that the advisory is not a ban or boycott. Instead, he says it’s a warning to Black travelers that “hate breeds violence and beware of your safety.”

Ironically, Russell currently lives in Florida. However, he told theGrio he does not plan to move.

The latest civic action in response to the legislative activity in Florida is part of a long history of the organization using the power of advocacy to speak out against state policy it feels brings harm to Black and brown communities.

For two decades, the NAACP boycotted the state of South Carolina for its flying of the confederate flag at the state capitol building. The ban ended in 2015 when then-Republican Gov. Nikki Haley had the flag removed after a white supremacist gunman murdered nine Black parishioners during Bible study at a church in Charleston. The shooter was found guilty of murder and targeting the victims because of their race.

It remains unclear what impact the NAACP’s travel advisory in Florida will have on the state. According to U.S. Census data, more than 24% of South Florida’s population is Black, and the state has the second-highest number of Black-owned businesses in the country.

Allan Boomer, chief investment officer at Momentum Advisors, told theGrio that a tourism ban would have “mixed results” in Florida. 

“The biggest impact will be to get the attention of Florida legislators and voters,” he said, including “calling attention to the laws and policies of the state that are detrimental to Black people.”

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