BET Founder, America’s First Black Billionaire, Says He Was Racially Profiled at Luxury Hotel

Robert L. Johnson, the black business mogul who founded BET and became the first American black billionaire after selling the media company, was not allowed to check-in at a 5-star luxury hotel in West Palm Beach.

In an interview with WPBF, a local Florida news station, Johnson said he felt “humiliated” when he was asked to remove his sunglasses in order to be checked into the Eau Palm Beach hotel.

He told the check-in clerk that he needed to keep his glasses on because they were prescription.

“Well, I can’t check you in if you don’t take off your glasses,” the clerk reportedly said.

Johnson said that he felt this was a case of racial profiling. He asked the hotel to call the police. The police showed up, and the hotel refused to relent to checking Johnson in while wearing his sunglasses, so Johnson left the hotel.

A spokesman for the hotel released this statement, “It is standard operating procedure in the industry to ask to make sure that the person who is presenting themselves to check-in and they present identification that it does match and if they’re wearing dark glasses with a ball cap low over their face, you want to make sure that it is the same person, much like what would happen at TSA rules going through the airport.”

However, another statement has since been released by the luxury property:

On Friday we hosted Mr. Bob Johnson for lunch at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and have resolved the check-in misunderstanding that took place on August 24. We let Mr. Johnson know that we sincerely apologize that he left our property feeling offended and unwelcome. The safety and security of our guests is top priority. We learned a valuable lesson in the delivery of our check-in policy and will ensure this scenario does not reoccur.

Johnson responded to the latest statement with, “The management team at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa has personally apologized and acknowledged my concerns with their check-in policy, and I appreciate their willingness to re-evaluate this practice moving forward. I’m glad they understand my perspective on this matter. I look forward to returning and enjoying the resort’s amenities in the future.”

Currently, Johnson is the founder and chairman of The RLJ Cos., a portfolio of companies with holdings in several industries, including the RLJ McLarty Landers Holdings L.L.C., the highest-earning black-owned auto company with revenues of $1.6 million and ranked No.1 on the 2018 BE Auto 45 list of the nation’s largest black-owned auto businesses.

In 2000, he sold Black Entertainment Television, a company he launched in 1979, for $3 billion to media giant Viacom, which made him the nation’s first black billionaire. Under Johnson’s ownership, BET became the first black-owned company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Since selling BET, he has invested in other business ventures. He showed his proficiency as a serial entrepreneur when he paid $300 million in 2003 to acquire the National Basketball Association’s Charlotte Bobcats expansion team.  The transaction was huge as it made Johnson the first black majority owner of a major professional sports team.

Johnson’s deal shattered ownership barriers when it came to a black businessman operating in that realm, though at the time, the NBA had a player base that was roughly 80% black. He sold most of his shares of the team to Michael Jordan in 2010.