Rarely in its history has the NAACP had a greater opportunity to exert a major influence than it has this week as the organization considers, at its Houston convention, whether to endorse the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court.
If the NAACP endorses Thomas, few senators are likely to vote against one who was nominated by a conservative president and approved by the nation's preeminent civil rights organization. But if the NAACP should add its voice to those opposing Thomas, Senate approval would be anything but certain.
It is understandable, for emotional as well as practical reasons, that the NAACP delegates would look with favor upon Thomas. He is, after all, a black man who would succeed a black man in an office of great power and prestige. On the practical side, it is a foregone conclusion that if the Thomas nomination is rejected, the alternative nominee would be someone who is just as conservative and yet does not share the experience of having grown up in segregated poverty -- an experience which, no doubt, will always function as a still, small voice as long as Thomas draws breath.