Chavis cites vindication, leads protest march

July 15, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Correspondent

CHICAGO -- The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. capped the NAACP convention yesterday by leading 1,000 people in a peaceful march on a Burger King restaurant that allegedly refused to serve four NAACP youth.

Standing atop a trash can outside the restaurant in downtown Chicago, the 46-year-old NAACP executive director told the young crowd: "We want to make it clear to all of America, if you mistreat one African-American, you mistreat all of us."

As the crowd chanted "Burger King got a whopper problem" and "No justice, no peace," NAACP Chairman William F. Gibson threatened a national boycott of the 6,000-restaurant chain if the matter wasn't resolved.

The protest was in keeping with the NAACP's militant tone and stress on youth under Dr. Chavis -- a trend symbolized at the group's 85th annual convention here by the election of a 20-year-old student to its national board.

The five-day NAACP convention that ended yesterday was a boon to Dr. Chavis. He entered the meeting under fire for the group's nearly $3 million budget deficit and for reaching out to Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.

But he lashed out at internal critics, said the NAACP wouldn't be dictated to by the news media or outsiders, stressed black unity, and papered over the group's financial woes. He emerged with a vote of confidence.

"There was all this speculation about an ouster and rancor at the convention," Dr. Chavis said in an interview. "None of that happened. Just the opposite. There was an overwhelming reconfirmation of our direction. The delegates will go back home now fired up."

The 3,000 convention delegates backed a Chavis plan to put an NAACP office in South Africa at a cost of at least $750,000 a year, and one of his chief critics, C. DeLores Tucker, was defeated in the board election.

In a show of unity yesterday, Dr. Chavis stood hand in hand with Dr. Tucker as he gave the benediction for the meeting's final legislative session. She pledged to stay in the NAACP.

The convention yesterday approved a resolution backing the NAACP leadership, despite arguments that such support was implicit.

Echoing a theme sounded throughout the convention, the resolution said that "the NAACP is under attack by the news media."

In his benediction, Dr. Chavis said: "Lord, we know if you %J embrace us, nothing can get through -- no news media, no stone, no stick, no bullet, nothing of evil."

The NAACP's money problems did not become a major issue, although the national board was told at a private meeting Wednesday that the group's deficit had reached nearly $3 million by midyear.

Dr. Chavis, who took over the NAACP in April 1993, said that he was "very concerned" about the deficit and that he planned to raise "$2 million in new money this year." He has fired 10 employees and plans more cuts, but he announced no radical retrenchment here.

Despite reports of large membership gains, the NAACP's 1993 annual report showed that membership income had declined by $100,000, to $3.3 million. The NAACP says that youth, who pay as little as $3 to join, account for two-thirds of new members. No dues increase has been proposed.

The NAACP director clearly had youth in mind yesterday when he marched to Burger King. Four NAACP teen-agers said the franchise's owner shooed them away before closing time Tuesday night, although about 15 other NAACP youth and adult advisers were inside.

"She said she couldn't handle the crowd. She had an attitude about it," said Trent Weatherspoon, 18, of Paducah, Ky., one of the four. "We're tourists bringing money into the city. They could have let us in. We went to McDonald's up the street. No problems there."

Michael Evans, a corporate Burger King spokesman, said the chain was "actively investigating" the incident. "Obviously we take any allegation like this extremely seriously," he said.

Mr. Evans said the NAACP hadn't approached Burger King about the incident before yesterday's protest.

Karmesha Florence-Terry, 16, an NAACP youth delegate from Jeffersonville, Ind., who was in the restaurant, said the owner told the four youths there were "too many of you" and that they were making her nervous. When they protested, the woman put her fingers in her ears and wouldn't listen, she said. They said she locked herself in her office and eventually called police.

The youths said the owner made no mention of race, but both were convinced that she didn't want to serve more black teen-agers. Karmesha said two non-black customers entered the Burger King and bought food after the incident.

The owner, identified by Mr. Evans as Bess Maros, couldn't be reached.

Jackie Graham, a Chicago-area Burger King official, said: "Burger King definitely does not discriminate against anybody."

But Kimberly Weaver, an NAACP youth leader from Baltimore, told the rally outside the restaurant: "Some people can't deal with a group of black people getting together."

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