National Urban League Ignores Call for Boycotting Convention Center

Times Staff Writers

The National Urban League will ignore a local black activist's call for a boycott of San Diego and hold its 1992 national convention in the San Diego Convention Center, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

The prominent black organization is reserving the right to change its plans between now and its July, 1992, annual meeting, but "at the present time, our plans are to hold our convention in San Diego as scheduled," said Janet Stewart, an Urban League spokeswoman in New York.

The decision appeared to be a blow to the Rev. George Stevens' call for a boycott of the city and the convention center in the wake of the San Diego Unified Port District commissioners' Feb. 21 refusal to name the $160-million bayfront edifice for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

However, an 85,000-member black fraternity has agreed to withdraw San Diego from consideration for its 1993 annual convention as a direct result of Stevens' call for a boycott. The organization, Kappa Alpha Psi, holds an annual national meeting that attracts about 5,000 people, said Randall Bacon, its immediate past president.

"Our feeling is that San Diego is just not giving appropriate consideration to (a tribute) in memory of Dr. King," said Bacon, a Los Angeles city official who until four months ago was a deputy chief administrative officer for San Diego County.

Bacon said the group's Western region will vote this month to nominate Seattle instead of San Diego for the 1993 national convention. That year's convention is likely to be held in a Western city, he said.

Stevens, an aide to Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) launched his "Tell a Friend" campaign the day after the Port District vote, urging people not to vacation or book conventions here until the convention center is named for King. He appeared on radio talk shows in several cities and contacted the Urban League about boycotting San Diego. However, no other San Diego black leader has publicly joined the effort.

No Bookings Canceled

None of the 344 organizations with conventions tentatively or definitively scheduled for the convention center from 1990 through 2012 has canceled because of Stevens' call for a boycott. Only one organization has a formal contract, which is usually signed within 12 months of the date desired.

The Port District declined to vote on the tribute to King, instead deciding to convert the building's bayfront terrace into an "Avenue of Honors," whose first inductee would be the slain civil rights leader.

That decision must now be reviewed by the San Diego City Council, which had supported the name change. Rudy Cervantes, an aide to Mayor Maureen O'Connor, said the Port District's suggestion probably will come before the full council during the third week in April. Both panels must agree on a tribute for it to become official.

Stevens termed the Urban League decision "unfortunate," but said his campaign has attracted the support of the fraternity and the Unitarian Universalist Assn., along with local minority groups, which he declined to name.

"I think that's unfortunate, because (the Urban League) of all people should be sympathetic to the problem that we're having in San Diego, and, as a national Afro-American organization, they should be supportive even when others are not supportive."

Erv Miller, a member of the board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Assn., said his 200,000-member organization has a policy forbidding conventions anywhere that discrimination is evident based on race, age, gender, disability or "affectional orientation."

"I can't say for sure that they would not go there, but I know they would look very carefully at something like that," Miller said from Rochester, Minn. Miller said he was contacted by his daughter, who he said is a Bates staff member. She was not available for comment Thursday.

Al Reese, spokesman for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, welcomed the Urban League's commitment, which he estimated will mean $3.78 million in income to the city. Stewart said that convention will draw 4,000 delegates from across the United States and 12,000 others who would be on hand for daily events.

"We are, of course, glad that they will be coming here," Reese said. "We put quite a little effort into getting them to bring the convention here, so we're naturally glad that they're going to be coming."

San Diego City Councilman Wes Pratt, who opposes an economic boycott, also endorsed the Urban League's decision.

"I think San Diego has to come to grips with the fact that it should provide an appropriate tribute to Dr. King, but an economic boycott only exacerbates an already difficult situation," Pratt said.

However, Pratt said the Urban League decision should not be viewed "as an indication that it's all right not to name the convention center" for Dr. King, noting that plans for national conventions are made years in advance and are difficult to cancel.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Saturday March 4, 1989 San Diego County Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction A spokeswoman for the National Urban League was incorrectly identified in a Friday article on the San Diego Convention Center. Her correct name is Janet Dewart.
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