defers to NAACP boycott of South Carolina
by Mairin Brennan
Reprinted with permission from Chem. Eng. News, March 6, 2000,78(10),pp58.
Copyright 2000 American Chemical Society.
The executive committee of the American Chemical Society's Division of
Polymer Chemistry has relocated the division's fluoropolymer workshop from
Charleston, S.C.-where it was scheduled to be held in October-to Savannah,
Ga. The division's official announcement states: "In order to better
serve the needs of our diverse membership, the [division] decided to move
the Fluoropolymer 2000 workshop to Savannah, Ga., to be held Oct.
The move is in response to a boycott against South Carolina imposed by the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and
brought to the division's attention by Joseph M. DeSimone, a professor of
chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a
professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University,
Raleigh. On Jan. 1, NAACP launched economic sanctions against the tourism
industry in South Carolina to pressure the state to stop flying the
Confederate flag over its Capitol building. The flag, which NAACP
considers a symbol of slavery, was raised in 1962 to commemorate the Civil
War centennial.In announcing the sanctions, NAACP stated that all previous
attempts to remove the flag "have been quashed by legislators who
have sole power" over its placement. "South Carolina is the only
state to fly the Confederate flag over its Statehouse," it noted ( http://www.naacp.
|Implications of the boycott
began to trouble DeSimone. He had accepted an invitation to speak at the
workshop, and his graduate students would be attending with him. "I
have a very diverse group of graduate students," DeSimone tells
C&EN. "I wanted to have everyone feel comfortable about
participating in that meeting.
Clockwise from rear left: Carson, Young,
Wells, and Bunyard.
Our group is really focused on fluoropolymers and this is our preeminent
meeting. I brought up the issue of the boycott with my senior graduate
students and we had a good healthy debate about it."
The students decided they wanted to take an active part in supporting the
boycott. Together with DeSimone, they composed a letter to the organizer
of the workshop-Dennis W. Smith Jr., an assistant professor of chemistry
at Clemson University, in Clemson, S.C.-in which DeSimone stated: "My
graduate students and I support the NAACP's position that this symbol of
institutionalized racism should be removed from the seat of current
political sovereignty. As the Fluoropolymer Conference is currently
planned to take place in Charleston, S.C., my research group must
regretfully forego participation, and I must rescind my agreement to give
an invited lecture." He suggested that the organizing committee
postpone the conference until a new location could be found.
Smith swiftly alerted the Polymer Division's executive committee about
DeSimone's decision, but indicated that the organizing committee
unanimously recommended not moving the workshop. The decision to relocate
it was not reached "without some debate," Smith tells C&EN.
"There were differences of opinion between the organizing committee
and members of the executive committee that had nothing to do with the
flag or racism. They had to do with whether a scientific organization
should support or condemn the actions of special-interest groups that are
unrelated to its charter. It was a constructive debate, and we're all
stronger for it."
DeSimone's senior graduate students-Clay Bunyard and Jennifer Young, who
are white, and Terri Carson and Sharon Wells, who are black-hail from
Mississippi, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina, respectively.
After researching the history of the Confederate flag, they concluded
"it serves as a symbol for various modern-day groups that advocate
white supremacy," Carson tells C&EN. Flying the flag over the
Capitol is upsetting to people who believe the flag represents slavery or
white supremacy, Bunyard elaborates. He acknowledges that some people view
the flag as a symbol of their past or the struggles of the South, but
says: "I don't think it's necessary to place it over the Capitol. It
could be moved to a more historically significant place such as the
monument to the people who fought in the Civil War. And NAACP is amenable
Commenting on the relocation of the workshop, Smith says: "The
organizing committee respects the decision and wisdom of the executive
board, and we're all happy to move forward and go to Savannah and have a
great conference." Meanwhile, the four UNC graduate students have had
"nothing but positive feedback from their fellow students and their
families" for the role they played, DeSimone says. "They are
excited to be able to make an impact."
According to data provided by NAACP, 75 groups had relocated events
scheduled to be held in South Carolina as of Feb. 23
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