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Black Americans, is it time to boycott the South?

Invoking an iconic blueprint, Dr. Ronald Smith issues a call to action concerning the growing opposition to racial equity across the South.

When the recent Supreme Court decision overturning affirmative action was announced, I warned that more was to come. We should not be surprised that the upheaval has continued.

One example, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ actions regarding how slavery will be taught in Florida public schools, is to be condemned by all. Regrettably, DeSantis is just doing what right-wing soccer moms are trying to do all over the country as they take over school boards. They want to dictate what is taught to children and they do not mind bending the truth or teaching inflammatory material. Maybe now the Catholic conservative majority on the Supreme Court will realize why there remains a need for affirmative action: the playing field, from pre-K to 12, is not level. Unfortunately, they won’t—because they remain misguided in their beliefs about African Americans and the status of racial equality in our nation. 

DeSantis isn’t the only elected official of a Southern state that has taken the offensive to limit voter rights, reduce access to quality and equitable education (Arkansas), gerrymander political districts (Alabama), and/or enact policies that are counter to the best interest of African Americans (Tennessee), Hispanics (Texas), and other classes of people.

In response, here’s an idea: should consider acting against those states. 

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott, they sent a message to Southerners that the era of segregation, discrimination, and Jim Crow laws was over. Is now the time to send a similar message? Hit them in the pocketbook and their behavior may change. Let’s hypothesize for a moment.

  1. Has the time come to show Southern states that renewed Jim Crow-style behavior will have significant financial impacts on businesses, educational institutions, and government revenues if things do not change?ᅠ
  2. What happens to the values of the professional sports teams if Black free agents choose to skip signing with teams in these states?
  3. What happens to the tourism industry in Florida if Black tourists boycott the state? What happens if we take similar action in the other Southeastern Conference (SEC) school states, the region’s economic powerhouses?
  4. What would happen if Black high school and college athletes boycott SEC schools, particularly those in states that continue to treat Black people as second-class citizens in their policies, education standards, education funding, justice system behavior, etc.? 
  5. What will happen to the SEC television deals if the teams have few Black athletes and can no longer compete effectively for national championships? 
  6. Would HBCUs benefit from an increased availability of Black student-athletes? Would decent television contracts be offered to the conferences where these schools belong?
  7. Will conservative voters respond to this boycott by challenging elected officials to treat all people the same or would they double down and move further to the right?

For the record, the SEC consists of schools from the following states: 

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky 
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

With the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas set to join in 2024, the SEC will represent twelve states. These institutions and states continue to benefit from the efforts of Black Americans, even though it is obvious that many of the elected leaders in these states only want Black Americans if they can control what they teach them; how they legislate; what and how they can protest; when, where and how they can vote; and how high up they can rise. Kentucky and Louisiana have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures. The other states have Republican governors and legislatures. Is a pattern starting to emerge?

Leaders in these states are focused on staying in power, but how are they doing when it comes to improving life for the people they serve? Did you know that all eleven SEC states plus Oklahoma rank in the top twenty states with the highest poverty rates in the nation? Is there a correlation between poverty and policy in Southern states? Would inclusion at all levels of society bring about economic improvements for more people? Integration has made a tremendous impact on the overall well-being of our nation as well as the financial well-being of the universities that have embraced Black student-athletes. Let’s not forget the national championships won by Southern schools since they integrated. I wonder if the coaches pursued integrating the teams because they realized that Caucasian-only teams were no longer viable at the championship level.

The majority of Floridians voted DeSantis into office, so why not send them a message that the path he is taking the state down will be costly to all Floridians, especially those that own businesses and support far-right behavior? The same argument can be applied to the other states as well.

Let us not forget DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s positions on immigration. They are both Catholics but are busing people out of Florida and Texas while also implementing unfair policies that are counter to the dignity of Hispanic people, workers, and undocumented immigrants. At a time when leaders should be promoting unity, healing, and the strength of a united nation, we continue to endure leaders that seek political self-gain at all costs. Our nation is only as strong as our weakest links, and it is unfortunate that leadership continues to be the problem. DeSantis has made a significant miscalculation and we need to let leaders at all levels know that we are not going to tolerate insensitive behavior and injustice. No more!

We all have choices about how and where to spend our money. Leaders in Southern states have forgotten this. Now would be a good time to remind them. Canceling conferences is a starting point. Protests and marches are another way to show displeasure. The real change, however, will come from parents and student-athletes choosing to go to schools in different states. If this is followed by tourists boycotting the states, people may take notice. And if our Hispanic brothers and sisters join in and fight for what is right, especially when it comes to immigration and labor rights, we can change the landscape with our economic might. Let the right-wingers pick their own crops in southern states and see how they like it when prices go through the roof because they cannot get enough workers. If we want change and equality in this country, we must work together. Equality is not just for African Americans; it is for all Americans, and I believe that most Americans want us all to be treated the same. We can make that happen if we work together.ᅠ

As I close, let’s look at the Catholic Penitential Act. It states: “In my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…” Let me break it down in the context of this discussion.

  • Thoughts: Search your heart; learn the facts; be informed about truth, right, and wrong; and pray to God to engage you as he sees fit. 
  • Words: Share what you learn and be vocal. Challenge others to learn and share the truth. Share what’s in your heart and spirit.
  • Deeds: Vote and encourage others to do the same. Learn how the political process works in your community and participate. Run for school board or other elected positions or campaign for people with similar values. Engage your priest/pastor and religious leaders to be vocal on social justice issues. Demand action!
  • Failure: If you do not engage, if you do not encourage others, and if you do not vote, do not complain about the outcomes going forward for you, your children, or the nation.

Political self-gain and racial misinformation should not be the determining factors in what happens to our children. Black and Hispanic people need to run for every school board in the country. We must take an active interest in how these boards operate and impact children across the country. We cannot sit back and let others do the heavy lifting.

It takes bold action to stop injustice. Conservatives have been gerrymandering Southern states for more than 20 years, diluting the vote of people that might not vote for them. They have increased in power at the cost of the inalienable rights of people that do not look or think like them. Is anyone ready to step up to level the playing field?

By the way, has anyone given thought to the possibility that state funding for HBCUs might be next on the chopping block in these states?

Ronald E. Smith, Ed.D is a lifelong Catholic who enjoys writing. He is a Rotarian and a parishioner at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Dana Point, California and St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Rubuguri, Uganda. He and his wife Sandy recently founded Friends of St. Kizito Rubuguri Primary School in Rubuguri, Uganda, where they serve as missionaries. He can be reached at

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