Civil rights leader announces plan to step down

June 09, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- After more than a decade of battling Republicans in the White House and then working with their Democratic successor, one of the nation's most prominent civil rights figures announced yesterday that he would step down.

Ralph G. Neas, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights for 13 years, said that he would resign when his replacement is chosen next year.

The announcement signaled a significant change in the vanguard of the civil rights movement and followed by two weeks a similar decision by Benjamin L. Hooks, the former executive director of the NAACP, to retire as chairman of the leadership conference.

The conference is an umbrella organization founded in 1950 that lobbies Congress and the White House for 185 groups that have a collective membership of more than 50 million Americans. The groups represent racial and religious minorities, women, the disabled, homosexuals and the elderly.

Although the Clinton White House has been more hospitable toward civil rights issues than the Bush or Reagan administrations, some officials of rights groups said it has a lukewarm approach that makes it difficult for Mr. Neas to define an agenda.

Mr. Neas, 48, said he has decided that it was time to do something new and that he plans to teach and practice law.

Mr. Neas was hired by the leadership conference in 1981, although his background made him an unlikely choice.

He is a white Republican in an organization tied most closely to Democrats and historically dominated by blacks.

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