If Crystal Hunt and Marquita Jackson were looking to draw attention, they succeeded. Wolf whistles and honking horns followed the bikini-clad duo as they strutted down Ocean Boulevard.
Hunt was wearing a red-white-and-blue Confederate battle flag wrap over her white two-piece; Jackson, a bra bearing the familiar diagonal blue cross and white stars co-opted by the Ku Klux Klan. You could say the two black women were thumbing their noses at the NAACP's five-year-old boycott of South Carolina except for one thing: Neither of the 21-year-old North Carolina women had any idea there was a boycott.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People started the boycott in 2000 to get the Confederate battle flag off the South Carolina State House dome. That goal was achieved in July of that year, but the organization continued the sanctions when the flag was moved to a memorial on the State House grounds -- a place of honor the group feels the flag does not deserve.
But judging from the columns of black motorcyclists zooming up and down the Grand Strand during the recent "Black Bike Week," few are heeding the call.
"I spend my money wherever I want to," Jackson, a stay-at-home mom from Fayetteville, N.C., said defiantly as she headed for the beach Memorial Day weekend. "They don't give it to me."
In the heady early days of the boycott, business and civic organizations canceled conventions at Palmetto State venues and pickets stood vigil at highway welcome centers. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, under pressure from black coaches, declared a moratorium on scheduling new events in South Carolina or Mississippi, whose state flag incorporates the Confederate banner.
The NCAA moratorium still stands, and some presidential candidates campaigning in the state last year were careful to bring their own food and stay at supporters' homes to avoid feeding the local economy. But the boycott has largely slipped from the public eye and out of most people's minds.
"I'll be honest with you, we no longer see any significant or measurable impact from that -- haven't since the flag came down," said Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.
The NAACP insists the boycott is still having an effect. But hard numbers are difficult to come by.
Douglas P. Woodward, director of the research division at the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business, tried early on to quantify the effects of the boycott. But he soon concluded that the political will to study the boycott's impact was not there.
"There's no quick and dirty way of doing this, and I think to a certain extent that is what they were looking for from us," he said.
Tourism spending is subject to myriad "ponderables," Woodward said. In South Carolina, he noted, hurricane winds have as much or more impact than the political variety.
If there has been an effect, it is not reflected in tourism-related tax collections, Edmonds said. According to his agency, accommodation tax receipts increased $3.5 million during the boycott period, and admission tax collections grew $2.5 million -- slow but steady.
Edmonds thinks event planners saw the removal of the flag from the State House dome -- where it was raised to commemorate the centennial of the Civil War and remained flying in defiance of the civil rights movement -- as "a good-faith effort."
"It has really become pretty much of a nonissue," he said.
Steve Camp disagrees. He is president of the Midlands Authority for Conventions Sports and Tourism, which covers the state capital of Columbia and surrounding counties. He said he fields calls about whether the boycott is on -- and has people tell him they will take their convention business elsewhere.
"I don't know that we lose money," he said. "I think that we lose opportunity."
For instance, Camp would love to pursue the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but he knows that is a nonstarter as long as that flag remains on the State House grounds. In the meantime, he is grateful that organizations such as the Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference can see past the boycott and come to his city.
The EIAC -- a small conference of historically black colleges with members in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas -- honored the boycott for four years.
But this March, the men's and women's basketball tournament returned to Columbia's Benedict College.
To put things in perspective, the 2004 men's NCAA Final Four generated $64 million in revenue for San Antonio. The EIAC figures its tournament pumped $145,000 into the Columbia economy.
Conference President Willie Jefferson does not feel any guilt about violating the boycott.
"We just need to leave that issue alone," said Jefferson, vice president for student affairs at Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C. "We can call for that boycott from now to the 22nd century, and things still will not change. . . .
"It's not that it [the boycott] is not hurting anything. It's not benefiting anything."
Dwight James, executive director of the NAACP's state conference, said the need to maintain the boycott transcends mundane economics. He said one need only have attended the black biker festival over the Memorial Day holiday in Myrtle Beach to witness "the Confederate mentality" that he sees as still rampant in South Carolina.
When the predominantly white Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association held its annual rally in the beach resort the week before, traffic along Ocean Boulevard was the usual two-way affair. But when the black riders with their foreign racing bikes descended on the town, the orange cones went up, and the popular strip was limited to southbound traffic.
For two years, the NAACP has battled the city in federal court over what the organization sees as an "apartheid traffic pattern" imposed during the five-day festival.
Though angry over the one-way traffic and jacked-up hotel rates, the black bikers were not going to let their fun in the sun be spoiled by a perceived hostile environment -- or by a boycott called by NAACP officials.
"I mean, they represent me and stuff, but at the same time they do expect a whole lot," said Maurice Christian, a 28-year-old car dealer from Raleigh, N.C., who has been coming to the Memorial Day event since 1993.
Janine Bivins and about two dozen other members of a biker crew called the Family came from Detroit to show off their rides and commune with old friends during the rally. Bivins admires the NAACP's principles but has become inured to the kinds of affronts the organization seems fixated on.
"Basically, it's not that big a deal, I guess, because we've been dealing with this for so long," the 35-year-old social work student said as she climbed aboard her candy-apple red Kawasaki Ninja 600.
Some visitors questioned the very logic of the boycott. Sitting in a lawn chair outside his hotel on the strip, Lamar Banks, an Air Force staff sergeant from Hampton, Va., said:
"Most of the people working in these hotels, cleaning the rooms, sitting at the front desk are African American. So if we don't come down here, then we're taking money out of their pocket and food off their table. How's that helping us as a whole?"
For now, there is no legislative movement on the State House flag. And until there is, said the NAACP's James, there will be no movement to end the boycott -- despite discouraging showings such as that in Myrtle Beach.
"I'd say there are thousands and thousands, even tens of thousands, of people in the region and across the country who also believe that it's worth fighting for," he said. "Quite frankly, dignity is worth fighting for."
Hunt, one of the bathing suit rebels, feels the NAACP should be focusing on more important things, such as educating poor black youth. If the boycott has not achieved its objective in five years, she said, it never will.
"It's silly," said Hunt, a criminal justice student at Fayetteville State University. "It's a new millennium. Everybody's not worried about a flag."