Many women can carry the torch of civil rights


April 01, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

You might want to get out your score card because I am about to engage in some major league name-dropping.

It is Monday night and I am strolling through the banquet hall at the annual awards dinner of the Baltimore Urban League, when Donna Jacobs and Sina Reid hail me from their table.

Mrs. Jacobs is executive director of Associated Black Charities. Mrs. Reid chairs its board of directors.

"I've got a message for you," says Mrs. Reid. "Anne Emory is looking for you."

So I stroll some more and a few tables away, Anne Emory spots me, leaps up and gives me a great hug. Dr. Emory, a retired educator, is president of the Baltimore chapter of the Coalition of 100 Black Women.

"We've got to get together soon and talk about our founder and national chair," says Dr. Emory. "She is a strong woman. A great woman and a very fine role model. The Baltimore chapter has been talking about ways we can support her in a major way."

Dr. Emory is talking about Jewell Jacobson McCabe, who founded the Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1981 and is now one of four finalists to become the executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

While all of this is going on, Alice Pinderhughes is up on the podium at the front of the banquet hall, trying to make presentations over the bustle and hubbub. Mrs. Pinderhughes is chair of the Baltimore Urban League's board of directors.

A couple of points about this smorgasbord of names and organizations. First, the old turf wars between different groups appear to be a thing of the past. You have all of these leaders, representing all of these organizations, communicating with each other, relaying messages, supporting each other's events.

The second and more significant point is that each leader is a woman.

Women, of course, have a distinguished history in the civil rights movement. Yet for decades they have complained of chauvinism at the top ranks of black leadership.

Black organizations have welcomed women as volunteers and foot soldiers, while excluding them from the policy-making table, so the complaint goes.

That is slowly changing, particularly on the local level. And many women feel a tremendous surge of optimism and pride in the fact that Ms. McCabe is receiving serious consideration as the NAACP's next executive director.

Benjamin Hooks, the current executive director, was scheduled to retire yesterday. But he agreed to remain in office until April 30 so that the 64-member NAACP board can decide on his successor.

The other finalists are the Rev. Jesse Jackson, head of the National Rainbow Coalition; the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, head of the United Church of Christ's Commission For Racial Justice; and Earl Shinhoster, NAACP Southeastern regional director. The candidates all have agreed not to discuss their applications with the news media.

Ms. McCabe's supporters credit her with supplying the vision and organizing force behind the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. It started with a series of leadership forums in 1970 and became a formal organization in 1981. Today, the group has 7,000 members and chapters in 25 states. Ms. McCabe remains the national chair of the coalition and is the president of Jewell Jackson McCabe Associates, a New York-based advocacy bTC consulting firm. Supporters say her career demonstrates her ability to forge alliances between human rights advocates and the corporate world.

"Ms. McCabe would be a tremendous asset to the NAACP in terms of stature and coalition building," says Dr. Emory. "And we cannot overlook the impact her appointment would have on our young women in terms of a role model."

Adds Shirley Marcus, deputy director of the Child Welfare League and a committee chair with the Baltimore Coalition of 100 Black Women: "This is one of the most difficult decisions the NAACP has had to make in many, many years because it is not just hiring a chief executive officer -- it is hiring a spiritual leader of the movement."

But Ms. Marcus says the NAACP already sent an important message when it took Ms. McCabe's candidacy seriously. "It said there are women who are capable of carrying the torch. It said attitudes are changing."

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