The Disgrace of the NAACP

August 03, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- It is sickening to watch the death of the NAACP, a once-proud organization now being strangled by two incredibly arrogant leaders.

This oldest and once most-feared, most-respected of all the nation's civil-rights groups will soon sink into pitiable irrelevance, bankruptcy and shame unless a majority of its board of directors can rescue it from its chairman, William F. Gibson, a South Carolina dentist, and its executive director, Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

Unfortunately, that may be impossible because Dr. Gibson has stacked the board in ways that seem to shield him and Dr. Chavis from dismissal, even in the face of egregiously bad judgment and conduct.

On Sunday, NAACP members and financial supporters across the nation saw on TV an admission by Dr. Chavis and Dr. Gibson that they had committed more than $300,000 in ''hush'' money to a fired woman who threatened a lawsuit charging employment discrimination and sexual harassment.

Dr. Chavis admitted to paying Mary E. Stansel $82,400 -- $64,000 directly out of NAACP funds and $18,400 from secret donors. He pledged to pay her $250,000 more if he could not find her a job paying at least $80,000 a year. Ms. Stansel has sued for the $250,000.

Dr. Chavis said he paid the woman ''to protect the NAACP from exposure to false and slanderous allegations.'' Dr. Gibson said he approved the payments to protect the integrity of the NAACP.

Almost nothing could do more to destroy the organization's integrity and reputation than these payoffs. Who is going to give more money to the NAACP when the chairman and executive director use its coffers as a private piggy bank to avoid personal embarrassment?

Where do Dr. Gibson and Dr. Chavis find authority to commit $332,000 in ''hush'' money without informing or gaining the approval of the NAACP's budget committee, the personnel committee or the full board?

The NAACP faithful, such as Marc Stepp in Detroit, who have been working doggedly to raise funds to erase the organization's $3 million deficit, surely feel betrayed. They know that the futile effort to pay Ms. Stansel for silence was not made to protect the NAACP; they have read where NAACP attorney Abbey G. Hairston was quoted as saying that the money was paid to protect Dr. Chavis, who was ''literally scared to death.''

The courts can decide the merits of Ms. Stansel's charges (from the lawsuit she filed despite the keep-quiet payments) and the later Chavis suit (the NAACP court action charging her with violating the deal). But we do not need a judicial decree to tell us that Dr. Gibson and Dr. Chavis have shown such terrible judgment and atrocious arrogance that they ought to resign their posts immediately or be ousted.

I have written before that the NAACP was doomed to impotence when Dr. Gibson became chairman and decided that he, not the executive director, would have the last word on everything. He provoked a deep schism within the board of directors but kept power by loading it with aged, conservative black Southern cronies who would rubber-stamp even his most outrageous decisions.

At the time Dr. Chavis was chosen to succeed Benjamin Hooks as executive director, I noted publicly that Dr. Gibson hovered over him at every moment, by way of saying that the real power still rested with the chairman.

So, as in the dictatorships of the old Soviet Union and China, a cult of personality began to suck the lifeblood out of the NAACP. And Dr. Gibson's cult followers may foolishly excuse him and Dr. Chavis for an action that was stupid and comes perilously close to unlawful use of funds contributed by a trusting, hoping public.

Can a majority of this 64-member board be such Gibson sycophants that they will tolerate meekly this autocratic, unconscionable use of NAACP funds?

If they fail to oust Dr. Gibson and Dr. Chavis, the NAACP will never again be a meaningful force in the councils of power in America.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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