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NAACP Convention Returns to Miami After 23-Year Absence - 2003-07-13

The NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has begun its annual convention in the southern U.S. city of Miami Beach. The nation's oldest civil rights organization returns to the Miami area after a 23-year absence marked by controversy and boycotts.

More than 10,000 delegates to the NAACP convention have begun their 94th convention by returning to a city they long spurned and criticized as being hostile to African-Americans.

The last time NAACP delegates met in Miami in 1980, their convention took place after riots had left several African-American neighborhoods in ruins. The riots were sparked by the shooting death of a black motorcyclist by a Miami policeman who belonged to the city's Cuban American community.

Ten years later in 1990, moves to bring the NAACP back to Miami were put on hold after several leading Cuban-American politicians criticized South African leader Nelson Mandela for comments he had made in support of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

During a visit to Miami, Mr. Mandela was spurned by city leaders, sparking outrage in Miami's African American community. Black leaders responded by organizing a three-year black tourism boycott that reportedly cost the region's tourism industry more than $20 million in lost revenue.

Local officials in Miami Beach, the resort community which generates the most tourism revenues for Miami Dade County, responded with a plan to draw African-Americans back to the region by sponsoring African-American cultural and musical festivals and economic incentives targeted at the Black community - including a multi-million dollar Black-owned resort hotel. African-American community leaders say as a result the climate for race relations has significantly improved in the Miami area.

James Farrington of the local Miami chapter of the NAACP said Miami's African American community is not dwelling on the past. "That is all in the past. We are in the business about getting ahead and going forward and moving on. We cannot look back to yesterday. Because if you look back to yesterday there are a whole lot of things you can be negative about," Mr. Farrington said.

NAACP delegates are focusing on economic develop and educational opportunities for African Americans. They will also meet with several Caribbean leaders expected to attend the convention to discuss U.S. aid, immigration and business opportunities for American blacks in the Caribbean.

Several Democratic presidential candidates will also meet with NAACP delegates at a candidate forum on Monday. However, NAACP leaders have criticized other candidates for not committing to attend the convention, saying Democrats should not take the Black vote for granted in next years election.