'Victory' claimed as black leaders conclude summit

June 15, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., saying "we have defied the forces that want to divide us," concluded a national black leadership summit yesterday by branding it a "victory" and scheduling another conference in August.

After three days of meetings, Dr. Chavis, Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and dozens of other participants emerged with no results to report other than the formation of three working committees and plans for another summit.

"Really, I should say that we've just taken a recess. The summit is not over with," said Dr. Chavis, who was the sole spokesman for about 100 summit participants.

The NAACP leader said the summit was a "success" simply because it had occurred.

"Let no naysayer underestimate what we have achieved here," Dr. Chavis said. "There is going to be dancing in the streets of black America because we have defied the forces that want to divide us."

"Never again will we allow any external force to the African-American community attempt to dictate who we can meet with, where we can meet and what we can meet about. Never again. Never again," he said.

He did not elaborate, but the NAACP has been harshly criticized by Jewish groups and others for meeting with Minister Farrakhan, who has a history of anti-white and anti-Jewish statements. Critics say the civil rights group has eroded its moral authority to condemn bigotry by helping to legitimize the Nation of Islam leader. Minister Farrakhan stood quietly by, smiling broadly, during the press conference at National Association for the Advancement of Colored People headquarters in Northwest Baltimore. He participated in the summit from beginning to end.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Rep. Kweisi Mfume took part in much of the summit but left yesterday afternoon. Dr. Chavis said he spoke for them, too. Earlier yesterday, Mr. Mfume, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the conference "has clearly made a difference in the minds of the masses of black people who wanted to believe a summit like this could take place.

"If nothing else were to occur, the summit has been a success," he said after a breakfast at New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore.

The NAACP leader said the committees would work on the summit's three themes -- black economic development, youth and community empowerment, and moral and spiritual renewal -- in preparation for another meeting the third week of August, also at NAACP headquarters.

Although one participant said the summit was preparing a three-page statement in a final, closed-door session yesterday afternoon, the leaders issued no written report.

Dr. Chavis had acknowledged earlier in the day that the summit was considering a proposed economic boycott of South Carolina for flying the Confederate flag above its state Capitol. Though he said later that the flag "represents the worst of America and should not be flying over any state Capitol," the summit did not officially call for a boycott.

The NAACP leader called on black communities across the nation to hold local summits.

"There's a yearning, an outcry for unity," he said. "Yes, we're going to hold government accountable, but we also see today that we are assuming responsibility to improve the quality of life of the African-American community."

The National African-American Leadership Summit was convened by the NAACP in an effort to attract a wide range of black opinion, although black conservatives weren't represented. Black nationalists and gang-summit organizers attended along with leaders of sororities, Masonic lodges and church groups.

Participants included Betty Shabazz, the widow of black nationalist Malcolm X; Cornel West, a Princeton University philosopher; Lenora Fulani, chairwoman of the leftist New Alliance Party; the Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York activist; John Henrik Clarke, an Afro-centrist author; and Queen Mother Moore, a 95-year-old advocate of reparations to compensate blacks for slavery.

Since taking over the NAACP leadership 15 months ago, Dr. Chavis has reached out to disaffected blacks and worked to attract young members.

"What I'm working on is building the NAACP. That's my agenda," Dr. Chavis said. "We need to expand our base."

As the NAACP worked to build enthusiasm among blacks, it risked alienating white allies by inviting Minister Farrakhan to the summit.

The Nation of Islam leader took advantage of the opportunity to reach a wider audience and sound a conciliatory note. He spoke with pride of being a lifetime member of the NAACP and said he was open to criticism from within the black "family."

"If my rhetoric is too strident, who better to correct me than my brothers?" he asked a summit rally at Bethel A.M.E. Church Sunday night.

The Nation of Islam was highly visible at the summit. Dozens of security men hovered around Minister Farrakhan and surrounded NAACP headquarters. Group members hawked newspapers and bean pies outside summit events, and clean-cut men in trademark bow-ties and Muslim women in scarves and long dresses attended the public gatherings.

Minister Farrakhan is to return June 27 for a men-only rally at the Baltimore Arena, part of a nationwide "Let Us Make Man" tour.

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