Jackson-NAACP pairing seemed a contradiction ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

April 08, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson's decision t withdraw from the running for the job of executive director of the NAACP is in keeping with his insistence always on full control in anything he does.

The NAACP board's talk of limiting the powers of the job was, in effect, an open invitation to him to step aside and he took it.

The presence of Jackson on the short list for the job seemed a contradiction from the start. Although Jackson now runs the organization of which he was the founder, the Rainbow Coalition, he remains essentially a one-man show and the Rainbow remains his personal vehicle, whereas the 500,000-member NAACP is renowned as a team organization.

While retiring NAACP executive director Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks is a prominent national figure, he owes most of his stature to his long association with the NAACP. Jackson's career has been marked by independence and a wide range of activities in the fields of civil rights and social justice, as well as partisan politics.

Wherever an underdog cause of any significance can be found, Jackson usually can be depended on to make an appearance, and often a committed involvement. But he also has worked the political vineyards, twice as a presidential candidate and currently as a "shadow" U.S. senator for the District of Columbia, essentially a lobbyist for D.C. statehood.

In all of these endeavors, Jackson the man rather than the representative of any organization has been the featured player. But his national reputation might have been just the medicine that the NAACP, sometimes regarded in black "movement" politics as too stodgy and bureaucratic, needed to shed that image.

But Jackson is at a turning point in his eventful public career, now that his role in elective politics has been diminished, first by his decision not to seek the presidency in 1992 and then by the very visibly cavalier manner in which he was treated by Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton last year.

Clinton's conspicuous coolness toward Jackson, capped by his sharp criticism of rap artist Sister Souljah in Jackson's presence at a Rainbow Coalition conference, cast Jackson in a clearly subordinate role in the 1992 campaign, although Jackson did continue to boost Democratic voter registration with his efforts last fall.

Concerns about Jackson's one-man style and doubts about his ability to fit into the NAACP mold as a team player generated opposition to his selection, leading to the point that the NAACP board of directors' considered limiting the powers of the new executive director. Jackson, in bowing out, said a strong director would be "essential" for the NAACP's growth and future success.

The NAACP's search committee is headed by Ernest Green, a senior vice president of Shearson Lehman's Washington office and one of the original nine individuals who as young students broke the school segregation barrier in the famous Little Rock case of 1957. The others recommended in addition to Jackson, who got the top rating, are Jewell Jackson-McCabe, a founder of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Earl Shinhoster, head of the NAACP southeast regional office in Atlanta; and the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, chairman of the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ.

The very fact that the selection committee decided to send four names on to the NAACP board, rather than just Jackson's as the highest rated prospect, suggested reservations about how he would fit in. Jackson had addressed the organization's conventions many times and had been a strong supporter of many of its activities, but more often he was more confrontational in his style and choice of targets.

Although the NAACP has 1,800 adult chapters around the country and about 500 youth and college chapters, many members have expressed the need for a transfusion of energy and activism and Jackson on his record would have brought that. But at the same time his presence at the helm of the organization could have undercut white financial support, which has been considerable, as he remains a troublesome figure to many whites.

As usual, wherever Jesse Jackson ventures, controversy follows.

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