NAACP needs a leader, not a miracle worker

WILEY A. HALL

February 23, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

The Rev. Jesse Jackson reportedly is among the front runners to be the next executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Jackson would succeed Benjamin L. Hooks, who will retire March 31 after 16 years at the helm of one of the nation's oldest and most revered civil rights organizations.

Also being considered, according to reports, are former Congressman William H. Gray 3rd, president of the United Negro College Fund; Mayor Maynard Jackson of Atlanta; and Randall Robinson, executive director of the anti-apartheid lobbying group TransAfrica.

But the big, big name on this list is Jesse Jackson.

Jackson and the NAACP: It would be either a match made in hell or a match made in heaven. It all depends on where you think the organization ought to go from here.

In 1915, when the organization was founded, the NAACP adopted the following mission statement: "The principal objective of the NAACP shall be to insure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of the United States; to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes; to seek enactment and enforcement of federal, state, and municipal laws securing civil rights; to inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination; to educate persons as to their constitutional rights and to take any other lawful action in furtherance of these objectives. . ."

The statement seems both clear and still relevant.

Yet, the NAACP is said to be facing a crisis of confidence.

Its aging leaders are said to be squabbling among themselves. Many of its constituency -- black Americans -- reportedly consider the NAACP and its programs irrelevant to the problems blacks face today. Many white Americans, according to opinion polls, believe the organization has crossed the line from campaigning for justice and equality for blacks to whining for handouts and unfair advantages.

The new executive director, whoever it might be, is supposed to be the miracle worker who will turn the NAACP around.

Can Jackson be the NAACP's miracle worker?

On the one hand, there are few blacks, outside of the sports and entertainment fields, who enjoy a greater name recognition than Jesse Jackson. He has run as a Democratic candidate for president twice. He has toured trouble spots all over the world -- from South Africa to the Middle East to, most recently, Haiti. He has been the host of a television show. He has had something to say about virtually every issue affecting the black community. Need a quick sound bite or "react" quote? Jesse Jackson is there.

There are many who believe the NAACP needs a high-profile, supercharged leader like Jackson; someone who can communicate a sense of vision for the organization and galvanize support. He would be controversial, but Jackson's supporters feel the NAACP could use a little controversy to re-establish its credibility with its black constituency, particularly young adults.

On the other hand, Jackson carries a lot of baggage, too. His "Hymietown" remarks during the 1984 Democratic primary alienated a great many in the Jewish community who might otherwise have been important allies. Some people feel Jackson is more interested in self-promotion than in seeing a project through to completion. Corporate America does not consider Jackson a team player.

There are those who feel the NAACP should "go corporate": establish joint ventures with other institutions, improve its financial portfolio, strengthen its management ties, maybe even computerize its operations. They fear Jackson would be a self-promoting, potentially divisive figure who would drive away corporate support.

None of this is new, of course. The same conflicts have plagued the NAACP since its founding, including the fear that young people do not find its goals and objectives relevant. Neither the NAACP nor its next executive director need to shoulder the burdens of black America alone.

Jackson could be a very effective leader for the NAACP. But no one man can work miracles. Miracles are achieved through communal efforts.

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