Chavis says he, Jackson don't differ as to goals

June 09, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Ten days ago, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. announced a "historic" jobs agreement between the NAACP and the Denny's restaurant chain's parent corporation. Several days later, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's Rainbow Coalition was protesting at a Denny's in Annapolis.

Last weekend, Mr. Jackson announced that his group would picket baseball's All-Star game July 13 in Baltimore. Yesterday, Dr. Chavis said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would not join the picketing.

Has a rift developed between the two civil rights leaders, who were rivals for the post of NAACP executive director? The lesser-known Dr. Chavis won the job two months ago after Mr. Jackson dropped out of contention.

Dr. Chavis said yesterday in a meeting with editors at The Sun that the two men may differ over tactics, but that they share the same goals. "The problems that beset the African-American community demand an array of leadership. I think it is unhealthy for anyone to posit themselves as the leader," said the 45-year-old leader of the NAACP, which is based in Baltimore.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus and maintains close ties with both men, said there "probably is some honest and healthy competition between the two just because they both were vying for the same office."

Mr. Mfume said last weekend he "woke up and saw Ben [Chavis] on television sitting at Denny's announcing a fair-share agreement, and before the week was over I saw Jesse leading a demonstration at the Annapolis store."

Six black Secret Service agents allege in a lawsuit that the Denny's in Annapolis denied them service April 1 because of their race. Partly as a result of that lawsuit, the NAACP reached a pact to increase minority hiring and monitor any racial bias in Denny's and other restaurants owned by TW Services Inc.

Mr. Mfume depicted the differences as "two very strong individuals trying to assert themselves with their respective organizations. It's not hostile or damaging."

"I don't think the average person has turned up the radar to see two objects on the screen going in different directions just yet," he said.

BTC Indeed, both leaders followed the same course in the fight last week over President Clinton's nomination of black law professor Lani Guinier as the government's top civil rights official. Both lobbied the president not to withdraw her name and harshly criticized him when he did.

Dr. Chavis, who meets with the Congressional Black Caucus today to discuss post-Guinier strategy, said the withdrawal did lasting damage to the Clinton administration's relations with civil rights groups because Ms. Guinier did not get a chance to "answer her accusers" -- an assessment much like Mr. Jackson's. The tactics over the All-Star game, however, demonstrate the latest difference between the two men. Mr. Jackson's Rainbow Coalition plans to picket to protest the lack of minority executives in major-league baseball.

Dr. Chavis agreed there are "problems of racial discrimination within the sports industry," but he said he would choose other tactics to change baseball. "I would rather see the Fugetts own the Baltimore Orioles," he said, referring to black businessman Jean S. Fugett Jr.'s interest in buying the team, "than to be standing outside the stadium with some sign trying to keep the fans from going to the game.

"It has always been in the tradition of the NAACP to work in a method that impacts the substance of issues and not just dealing with the symbols," Dr. Chavis said. "When I pull out the NAACP's troops, it is going [to be] to change the macro-problem."

Frank Watkins, a spokesman for Mr. Jackson, said the two leaders "share essentially the same goals, possibly playing different roles."

"The NAACP has mainly been known recently for its legal approach to problem-solving," while Mr. Jackson has been "grass-roots action-oriented," he said.

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