Black organizations apparently have succeeded in forcing a national restaurant chain to change its name, considered offensive to blacks, in three New England states.
The action affects 18 Sambo's restaurants in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.
Under legal and community fire from black protest groups and several local governments because of the name, the national chain, Sambo's Restaurants Inc., based in Santa Barbara, Calif., has renamed its outlets in these three states No Place Like Sam's, or simply Sam's.
Sam's seeks to capture the same fast-food dollar that has eluded its Northeastern outlets since the chain began operation here in 1978.
The chain denies that pressure from black groups has prompted the change. "We are taking this step to improve our market position in New England," said Arthur K. Dowd, vice-president of Sambo's in charge of public relations. Mr. Dowd represents the new ownership of the chain, City Investing Company, a New York conglomerate, which apparently is seeking to counteract controversy over the name Sambo's.
Although racial discrimination suits have been filed against Sambo's Dowd said the company has an "equal opportunity" hiring policy, adding, "We have blacks employed throughout the system."
Sambo's will not become Sam's nationwide at this time, he said. But "we shall be watching the 18 restaurants called Sam's. We feel we can gauge the results of a name change in New England better than anywhere else in the country. We shall make our decisions after studying results of the name change."
Founded in California in 1967, Sambo's was said to be a combination of the names of its two founders, Samuel D. Battistone and F. Newell Bohnett. Dowd said this is the origin of the name, not the children's story, "Little Black Sambo," which black people consider offensive.
Opposition arose in New England in 1978 when plans for construction of 19 Sambo's restaurants were announced. The New England branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) objected. Several suits were filed to halt openings of restaurants under the name Sambo's.
The NAACP will not object to the new name, says its New England president, Abner Darby. "I am not sure whether I will patronize Sam's," he adds, "but neither I nor the NAACP will object to blacks eating there. We asked them to change the name, and they have complied."
Nan Ellison, president of the Brockton, Mass., NAACP, which led the strongest protest against Sambo's, said: "I think I can go to Sam's to eat without feeling degraded. I could not feel comfortable at Sambo's when I reflected on the sacrifices made by demonstrator s at sit-ins during the 1960s."