Once Again, NAACP Says 'Who, Me?'

GLENN McNATT

July 10, 1993|By GLENN McNATT

The NAACP's cynical agreement with Denny's owner Jerry Richardson to endorse his bid for a professional football team in Charlotte, North Carolina, in exchange for Mr. Richardson's pledge to stop discriminating against blacks at his Denny's restaurant chain and other businesses is a perfect example of why younger blacks have become disenchanted with the nation's oldest civil-rights organization.

Of course, the NAACP now denies it ever made such a deal with Mr. Richardson. It also denies it ever ''endorsed'' Charlotte as the site of an NFL expansion team. To round things out, Mr. Richardson denies that his restaurants discriminate against blacks.

No one is taken in by such quibbling, except perhaps little children who still believe in the tooth fairy. All the denials do is compound the NAACP's credibility problem by making it appear that the organization's leaders think its members are so dim they will swallow any old lie.

Benjamin Chavis, the NAACP's new executive director, didn't help himself by pretending for almost a week that he hadn't struck a Faustian bargain with fellow North Carolinian Mr. Richardson. When Mr. Chavis met with local NAACP leaders and elected officials earlier this week, they had their hands full trying to convince him that this dog just wouldn't hunt. It required many hours' discussion before Mr. Chavis grudgingly agreed to include the word ''apologize'' in the NAACP statement issued Wednesday.

Ironically, Mr. Chavis was brought in by the NAACP board partly to attract a younger generation of blacks typified by Baltimore's Mayor Schmoke and Rep. Kweisi Mfume. Both were furious when they learned Mr. Chavis had climbed into bed with Baltimore's rival for a football franchise. Mr. Chavis can expect similar bile from young black movers and shakers in other cities vying for a team when he appears at the NAACP's national convention in Indianapolis next week.

But the problem goes deeper than the anger of a few local boosters. The real issue is a perception that the NAACP lacks the integrity to negotiate agreements that truly represent the interests of blacks.

That is a serious charge, but it is inevitable given the organization's recent history -- most notably the role played by former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks in the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Though that episode was widely reported in Baltimore, it remains less well known in other parts of the country. The gist of the story was that Mr. Hooks, using a Baltimore Sun reporter as intermediary, cut a deal with the Bush White House to delay the NAACP's opposition to Judge Thomas until enough momentum had built up behind the nomination to assure confirmation.

The description of Mr. Hooks' role in the Thomas nomination first appeared in the 1992 book ''Capitol Games: Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, and the Story of a Supreme Court Nomination,'' by Timothy M. Phelps and Helen Winternitz, two veteran Washington reporters who had covered the Thomas hearings the previous year.

Arch Parsons, the former Sun reporter described in the book as Mr. Hooks' intermediary with the Bush administration, acknowledged his role in a letter to Sun Executive Editor John S. Carroll last year. In that letter, Mr. Parsons apologized to his colleagues at the paper and to other black journalists for ''the wrong, the consequences and the sheer stupidity of what I've done.''

But Mr. Hooks dismissed the book's account of his part in the affair, calling it ''a very dramatic and despicable lie.'' He was RTC supported by NAACP national board chairman William F. Gibson, who swore that Mr. Hooks ''did not try to keep us from reaching a decision.''

Mr. Phelps and Ms. Winternitz, both former Sun reporters, stood by their story. They are careful reporters with excellent sources among Washington's power players. There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of their account.

Perhaps the whole truth will never be known. But it's worth noting that Justice Thomas has amply justified the fears of those who doubted he would moderate his views once he secured a seat on the nation's highest court. Also that Dr. Gibson, who earlier insisted Mr. Hooks had no part in helping Justice Thomas, is the same fellow who now claims Mr. Chavis didn't endorse Charlotte for an NFL team. I suppose there are some younger blacks who actually believe that. But I am not one of them.

Glenn McNatt writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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