AT&T chairman confers with NAACP officials More talks planned on minority issues

October 05, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

The chairman of AT&T met with NAACP officials in Baltimore yesterday to discuss increasing blacks' role in the company, which was embarrassed last month by a "racist" illustration in its employee magazine.

In a joint statement issued late yesterday, the participants said further talks would be held on "such issues as recruiting minorities, providing scholarships for African-American students, procurement and promotion goals, utilization of black financial institutions, senior executive positions and management diversity training programs."

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Dr. William F. Gibson, NAACP board chairman, represented the civil rights group.

Robert E. Allen, chairman of American Telephone & Telegraph Co., left NAACP headquarters in Northwest Baltimore minutes before a news conference with NAACP leaders was to begin.

Spokesmen for both sides said the aborted news conference was no reflection on what they called the positive tone of the 90-minute meeting.

Burke Stinson, a spokesman for the nation's largest long-distance carrier, said Mr. Allen came to Baltimore for a private meeting and was not aware that a news conference had been scheduled.

"I don't think anything went wrong," he said. "Mr. Allen's style is to collect opinions and points of view and listen as carefully as he can to various solutions, and then to reach a conclusion and make things happen."

Mr. Allen has been doing damage control since mid-September, when the illustration appeared in AT&T's Focus magazine, which is distributed to the corporation's 315,000 employees. About 15 percent of the company's employees are black.

The cartoonlike drawing in the magazine, in a feature called "Fun 'N Games," showed people on various continents making calls. It depicted the caller in Africa as a gorilla, which angered many readers.

Mr. Allen, in a letter of apology to all employees dated Sept. 17, condemned the "racist" illustration as a "deplorable mistake" and pledged to use the incident as "a springboard to drive any vestiges of prejudice or racism from our company."

AT&T announced yesterday that it was ending publication of the award-winning monthly because its credibility had been irrevocably damaged.

"This illustration was a billion-to-one mistake," Mr. Stinson said. "Even so, that doesn't mean the pain and outrage it caused should be diminished."

Mike Moran, the New Jersey free-lancer who drew the illustration, has said that he is "a big King Kong fan" who often uses gorillas in humorous drawings. He said he "had no intent to hurt anyone."

Reached at his home yesterday, Mr. Moran would not comment. "I'm just kind of burned out on it now," he said.

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