Fearless Chavis got scared and hurt NAACP's mission

August 03, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

Late last year, a woman went to Benjamin Chavis Jr., the executive director of the NAACP, and threatened to sue him for sexual improprieties.

Chavis, a man who has stood up to bullies and brutes all his life, knew exactly what to do:

He agreed to pay the woman $332,400 out of NAACP funds to keep her mouth shut. Then he kept the deal a secret from his board of directors.

But is that what you would do if you were the subject of what Chavis now calls "unfounded charges" and "false and slanderous allegations"?

Not me. I'd say: "Lady, I have faced liars tougher than you. You tell your story and I will tell mine and we will see who prevails."

So why did Chavis agree to pay the woman all that hush money?

"He was literally scared to death," Abbey G. Hairston, his lawyer, says. "He was new [to his job] and she was threatening him."

He was scared to death? Ben Chavis? Ben Chavis is a lion of the civil rights movement, a man known for his courage.

He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at age 12. As a teen-ager, he became a civil rights organizer in the segregated South where such activity could get you killed.

In 1972, he was sent to prison for inciting a mob to firebomb a white-owned grocery store on what an appeals court later ruled was false testimony.

Chavis spent 4 1/2 years in prison, some of which time he spent in leg irons, because someone lied about him. But he had the physical and mental toughness to survive.

Yet this is the same man who is so "literally scared to death" by the false accusations of a woman employee that he caves in to her demands for money?

C'mon. Tell me another.

Under the agreement that Chavis entered into, the NAACP would pay Mary E. Stansel two payments totaling $50,000 followed by monthly payments of $5,400.

If Chavis failed after six months to find Stansel a Washington-area job paying her a minimum of $80,000 per year, the NAACP would then pay her a lump sum of $250,000.

Stansel, a lawyer, had lobbied the NAACP board to get Chavis his job. She then was given a temporary position at the NAACP. But when she was dismissed, she became "embittered" according to Chavis' lawyer.

Chavis' lawyer also says Stansel may have a history of this kind of thing: Stansel lost a sex-discrimination suit against Eastern Airlines and also extracted a $10,000 settlement from a bar association in Alabama.

Which, to me, is yet another reason Chavis never should have paid her off. Chavis should have called a press conference and said: "This creature makes a career out of filing such claims! But I will not be intimidated!"

Instead, Chavis authorizes massive cash payments to her from the treasury of an organization nearly $3 million in debt.

Some NAACP board members are now upset with Chavis.

But the people who have truly been betrayed by him are the thousands who contribute money to the NAACP each year.

If you give one dollar or one million dollars to the NAACP, you do so with the expectation that your money will be used in the cause of civil rights.

You do not do so with the expectation that your money will be used to silence a person accusing the executive director of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment.

The NAACP has already paid Stansel $64,000. Chavis says that he tried to get Stansel a federal job -- meaning he wanted U.S. taxpayers to employ a person he did not want to employ -- but that she didn't show up for the job interview.

Stansel is now suing Chavis and the NAACP for the rest of her money, and the NAACP is now suing Stansel. And what started out as a secret has become a public scandal.

At the NAACP's 85th annual convention a few weeks ago, when the Stansel allegations were still being hushed up, Chavis said:

"No bombs, no guns, no racism, no bigotry, no hatred, no prejudice, no news media, no back-stabbing . . . no envy, no jealousy, no pettiness, no disunity, no inflated egos. None of these things are going to stop the NAACP from moving forward."

And he is correct.

Right now it looks like the only thing that is going to stop the NAACP from moving forward is Ben Chavis.

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