Embarrassment for the friendliest city: AME bishop claims he was kicked out of hotel room

”I hope something like this never happens again,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told the Rt. Rev. Richard Franklin Norris, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, after Norris said staff at the Charleston Courtyard Marriott told him he had to vacate his room late Tuesday night because they wanted to put somebody else in it. Riley showed up at Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday to apologize to Norris on behalf of a city known for its friendliness.

These kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen in a city known around the world for its hospitality.

The bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina — the state’s biggest African American denomination — says he was told he had to vacate his room at a downtown hotel late Tuesday night because it had been promised to somebody else.

A staff member of the Courtyard Marriott met the Rt. Rev. Richard Franklin Norris in the lobby shortly before 10 p.m., called him by name and told him he and his wife had to move to another room, he said. Norris, 71, had already been in the room several days and said he had it reserved through Saturday. When he told the staff member it was too late to be moving at night, he found his key no longer worked on the door, he said.

“I expected it (bad treatment in Charleston) in 1960; I did not expect it in 2013,” Norris told about 500 pastors and delegates meeting at the historic Emanuel AME Church Wednesday.

Eventually, the key worked in the door and Norris moved to another hotel in North Charleston.

The incident upset Charleston Mayor Joe Riley enough that he personally appeared at the conference at which Norris was presiding Wednesday afternoon to apologize.

“I hope something like this never happens again,” Riley said after welcoming the delegates to Charleston as mayor of the nation’s friendliest city. He promised to talk to the hotel’s manager to get to the bottom of it.

The manager, Beryl Rice, said Norris’ account is wrong.

“That’s not what happened,” Rice said Wednesday. “We wouldn’t ask anyone to leave his room in the middle of the night.”

Asked about what actually happened, Rice refused to offer details, saying only that the bishop’s account is not accurate.

The bishop was incensed when he heard Rice’s reaction.

“He’s basically calling me a liar,” Norris told the conference around 6 p.m., when he was scheduled to meet with Rice. “Let somebody else meet with him. I don’t ever want to talk to him.”

Norris said he made an issue of what happened to him because he didn’t want any other pastors or delegates to experience the same treatment at future conferences here. He also said he was considering canceling the next conference scheduled here in 2015.

Norris said he would reconsider coming back to Charleston after Riley showed up to apologize.

Adam Parker contributed to this story. Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or follow him on twitter @dmunday.