WASHINGTON -- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is drawing new members in "record numbers," the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the group's recently named executive director, said yesterday.
Dr. Chavis offered no figures, but he said that "in the not too distant future, the NAACP will have over 1 million members," up from the 500,000 the Baltimore-based group claims now.
The 45-year-old civil rights leader, who made the remarks at a National Press Club luncheon, has tried to give the nation's oldest civil rights group a more vibrant image since being tapped to succeed the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks in April.
Dr. Chavis has slept in a South Central Los Angeles public housing project, held a summit of youth gang leaders, started the NAACP's first Latino branch, traveled to Africa and negotiated an agreement to promote minority advancement in a large restaurant chain.
The "multimillion-dollar" accord with TW Services Inc. of Spartanburg, S.C. -- the parent firm of the Denny's restaurants -- would "impact minority employment, training, ownership of franchises and overall economic development issues," Dr. Chavis said.
He said details of the agreement, which was announced last weekend, will be forthcoming by the end of June.
The agreement grew out in part from an incident in which six black Secret Service agents charged that an Annapolis Denny's failed to serve them because of their race while they were on a detail to protect President Clinton during a speech at the Naval Academy.
Dr. Chavis, who defended the nomination of Lani Guinier to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, said the NAACP's future plans include campaigning against the death penalty and joining a 30th anniversary March on Washington Aug. 28.
He said a revitalized NAACP, which critics have called out of touch in recent years, could turn disillusioned black youth into a "whole new generation of freedom fighters."