'Twas a Famous Summit

June 20, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — In a recent column I said as forcefully as I know how that the NAACP has a right to invite anyone of any political stripe to a leadership conference without anyone assuming that the NAACP itself is endorsing any of the extreme opinions represented.

I emphasized that I despise anyone or any group that wants to punish the NAACP or any other group for honoring constitutionally protected free speech. I did not deal with the question of whether the NAACP ''summit'' was fundamentally an exercise in futility.

So now let me deal with two common-sense questions.

First, was the conference worth the cost of all that money the NAACP does not have? Emphatically, no!

And second, did anything happen at that ''summit'' that is likely to lift the mass of black Americans closer to economic justice, social redemption and greater political power? Absolutely not.

A headline in Thursday's Baltimore Sun said ''Chavis, Farrakhan Share Goal: Both use summit to expand following among blacks.'' I don't even believe that.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the NAACP director, got only the ego satisfaction of showing that 75 or so influential or notorious African Americans would answer the call of his ''leadership.'' Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, got star billing as the attendee most hated by ill-guided Jewish pickets. But I doubt that either raised his basic standing among either blacks or whites who have the power to influence or reshape this society.

The affair made Dr. Chavis look desperate and naive. What made him think he could put Mr. Farrakhan and Betty Shabazz, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, author Cornel West and Congressman Kweisi Mfume in the same room for a couple of days and have them agree on a road map for a black journey to the promised land? They can't even agree whether the promised land is all black or integrated.

That ''summit'' showed that talk is cheap, unlike the cost of rent, milk and shoes for the millions of American blacks who know wretched deprivations of both body and mind.

Some at that summit, including Dr. Chavis, I fear, have not learned or refuse to accept the truism that nothing much changes in this society except as it is run through the political system. This country is free of the curse and shame of Jim Crow in public accommodations, and blacks hold meaningful political power, because the people forced the Congress to legislate a new social fabric for America.

Did it ever occur to Dr. Chavis that all his summit guests combined could not do diddly squat to change the current political system or to energize the American people to demand justice the way Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Dorothy Haight and other blacks did in the 1950s and 1960s?

Most of the blacks with usable political power were not in Baltimore for Dr. Chavis' talkfest, and if they had been they would have said, ''We need some powerful white allies on board if we really want to overpower the enemies of black equality.''

So the ''summit'' faded away, not with the jarring thud of the Rockies crumbling, but with invitees trudging back into a real world where the Congress is about to pass a crime bill that will make the criminal-justice system ever more hostile to black people; to consider a welfare bill that will make the poorest children of all races even more an endangered species, and to reject all health-care bills that offer black people the health care they need so desperately to cope, let alone compete.

The NAACP does not need to finance the unproductive chatter (( of 75 big egos; it needs to pay 75 wise and persuasive people to jawbone President Clinton and the chairmen and key members of Congress who will push through the laws that will become either new paths to freedom, or new roadblocks, for 32 million black Americans. It needs to pay a few skillful and persuasive employees to once again get the people on the side of fairness and justice.

A Chavis who accepts this reality will always have supporters and will surely never again call another doomed-from-day-one ''summit.''

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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