Chavis' secret meeting angers NAACP officials

April 10, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

A private meeting between the NAACP's chief executive and a group of black nationalists has angered members of the civil rights group's board, which wasn't told of the event.

Among 50 leftists invited by the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. -- half of whom came to the meeting Friday in Detroit -- were political radicals Angela Davis and Kwame Toure (formerly Stokely Carmichael), rapper Sister Souljah and former presidential candidate Lenora Fulani.

Of the four, only Ms. Fulani attended.

A March 18 letter of invitation -- headed "Confidential: Not for Publication or Reproduction" -- described as one goal of the meeting "access of Pan-Africans, Progressives and Nationalists into increased levels of membership and active participation within the NAACP at national and local levels."

The letter, obtained by The Sun, touted the "inclusive mission of the Chavis administration and the African-centered, self-determined program thrust of the 'new' NAACP." It was signed by Dr. Chavis and the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored nTC People's Detroit branch.

Joseph E. Madison, a Washington radio host and NAACP board member, said he was angered that the board of the Baltimore-based organization was not consulted before Dr. Chavis convened the meeting. He called the guest list "a 'Jurassic Park' of the radical era."

"It's like handing a hand grenade to the political right and pulling the pin yourself. It gives them a weapon to use against us," Mr. Madison said. "The NAACP is not a radical organization. This smells of trying to re-create the NAACP in the image of Ben Chavis."

Thomas Turner, a national board member from Detroit, said the meeting appears to have violated NAACP policy because "no local branch has the authority without permission of the national NAACP to call any kind of summit" involving people outside its jurisdiction. Mr. Turner did not know of the meeting in advance.

C. DeLores Tucker, a member of the NAACP Special Contribution Fund board, a fund-raising arm of the civil rights group, said she had heard "some real grave concerns" about the meeting.

Don Rojas, a spokesman for the NAACP, said the meeting was merely an attempt to establish a dialogue with "various constituencies." He said there was "no deliberate intent to keep the board uninformed."

"The NAACP is not a radical organization, but hopefully the NAACP will be an organization where all elements of the African-American community can find a place," he said.

Dr. Chavis, in North Carolina for an NAACP event, could not be reached.

Dr. William F. Gibson, the Greenville, S.C., dentist who is chairman of the NAACP board, did not return phone calls. He was not told in advance of the meeting, although the invitation was sent out on NAACP letterhead bearing his name.

Mr. Rojas conceded that the invitation should have been extended by the Detroit branch, which he said initiated plans for the meeting.

"I don't think this will cause any irreparable damage with the board or with the NAACP rank and file," he said.

Among the 25 guests who attended, Mr. Rojas said, were Afrocentrists Maulana Ron Karenga and Leonard Jeffries (who was not on the original list), and philosopher Cornel West. Some who didn't attend included actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, comedian-activist Dick Gregory, and poet Sonia Sanchez.

Mr. Rojas said the result of the meeting was that "dialogue will continue and all parties will work in our communities to permit greater operational unity."

Dr. Chavis, named the NAACP's chief executive a year ago yesterday, said last week in an interview that he was trying to complement the group's "historic core of middle-class, educated integrationists" with "nationalists, Pan-Africans, working-class, the unemployed, the marginalized, the underclass."

He said the NAACP must reflect black America's growing diversity without abandoning the "philosophical underpinning that has made the NAACP possible."

The flap over the Detroit meeting comes as Dr. Chavis has been harshly criticized from outside the NAACP for dealing with Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the black separatist Nation of Islam.

The NAACP plans to hold a black leadership summit this spring and invite Minister Farrakhan. The move has caused some soul-searching within the 64-member board, which is dominated by older Southerners with roots in the integrationist struggles of the civil rights movement.

An NAACP official last week privately described the Detroit meeting only as a "pre-summit meeting of people who probably won't be invited to the summit."

Dr. Chavis has generally walked in lock step with Dr. Gibson, the board chairman, during his first year on the job. Some civil rights watchers have even criticized the NAACP for "two-headed management."

The only case in which the board even indirectly rebuked Dr. Chavis in public came in February. The board passed a resolution condemning "gangsta rap" -- music that glorifies gun violence and denigrates women -- only days after Dr. Chavis sponsored a Washington forum to defend rappers from censorship.

Dr. Chavis said critics of rap should be more concerned about the social conditions that breed negative lyrics than the sometimes off-color lyrics themselves.

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