NAACP board ousts Chavis as director 'I am undaunted, unbowed and unbossed,' he says THE CHAVIS CONTROVERSY

August 21, 1994|By This article was reported by Sun staff writers James Bock, Ann LoLordo, Michael A. Fletcher, Ivan Penn and Dana Hedgpeth

The NAACP board of directors fired Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. last night in a special meeting called to discuss his management of the civil rights group and his use of organization funds to secretly pay a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment.

The decision came about 6 p.m., toward the end of a five-hour, closed-door meeting attended by 57 of the 64 board members. The show-of-hands vote was overwhelming.

Emerging from the NAACP headquarters building several hours later, board Chairman William F. Gibson said Dr. Chavis "had embarked on a course of conduct that is inimical to the best interests of the organization. His service in regards to working in the NAACP was best served by severance."

Earl T. Shinhoster, the NAACP's national field secretary, was named interim executive director. An oversight committee was to be appointed to monitor the operations of the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

Mr. Shinhoster, a former NAACP southeast region director, was one of four finalists with whom Dr. Chavis competed for the job last year.

Looking drawn and tense as he stood in a crush of people, Dr. Gibson said no one issue caused the board to fire the 46-year-old minister, who was named the group's executive director in April 1993.

"It was an accumulation," said Dr. Gibson, who had been one of Dr. Chavis' key allies until the settlement with a former aide became public in June. "This decision was not easy."

Dr. Chavis was not present when the board voted to oust him. When he came out of the building sometime after 10 p.m., the fired executive director stood in the light of a full moon, his wife, Martha, beside him, to address a waiting crowd of reporters.

"I am obviously somewhat shaken by the vote of the board of directors," said Dr. Chavis. "I have made a commitment to the freedom struggle of African-Americans as well as the freedom struggle of people of African descent around the world.

"I stand tonight a victim of an orchestrated campaign to defame my character and my integrity."

Dr. Chavis' fighting spirit -- an ardor that punctuated his public appearances in the past two weeks -- surfaced again last night.

"I am undaunted, unbowed and unbossed," Dr. Chavis said. "I do not intend to make any statements against the NAACP. I believe the overwhelming majority of members of the NAACP are good and honorable sisters and brothers. I love them. And they will always have my support."

As evidence of his commitment to the struggle, Dr. Chavis announced that the African-American summit of which he intended to be host as NAACP executive director would go on today anyway. It is to be held at Bethel AME Church at Druid Hill and Lanvale streets.

"I'm not going to let the lynching that took place here stop us from having the summit," he said. "I intend to live the rest of my life fighting for freedom. . . . I intend to rise from this moment. I don't intend to allow my good name to be drug in the mud by anybody or anything."

With that, Dr. Chavis returned to the NAACP's headquarters building. He took no questions.

The conclusion of yesterday's special meeting did not only end the short career of one of the NAACP's most colorful and controversial leaders. It ended one of the greatest internal crises in the 85-year history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The emergency meeting was convened after it was reported that Dr. Chavis made a secret deal to pay a former aide, Mary E. Stansel, up to $332,400 to avoid being sued on sexual discrimination and harassment charges.

"This is a sad and tragic time for the NAACP, and for Ben Chavis and his family personally," said the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, Dr. Chavis' predecessor at the NAACP. "The NAACP, through its long and glorious history, has had a number of problems but never one like this. But as we have recovered from other situations, we can recover from this."

Board member Joseph E. Madison, a prime organizer of the move to oust Dr. Chavis, described the board meeting as "very professional." He said Dr. Chavis answered questions for about an hour and "attacked no one."

Mr. Madison, a Washington broadcaster, said that "there was nothing really new" in the evidence presented about Dr. Chavis' handling of the Stansel case. But as Mr. Madison spoke with reporters outside NAACP headquarters, the emotion surrounding this meeting was evident in the voices of a handful of Chavis sympathizers. "Uncle Tom Madison," they shouted.

"You reap what you sow. That's what happened here," said Dr. Charles M. Butler, a board member from Coatesville, Pa. "He reaped what he sowed. There are going to be some changes made. We learned a lesson from this one."

Dr. Gibson said that the board would discuss with Dr. Chavis and his advisers "a separation and severeance agreement in order to bring this matter to a conclusion."

Anger and tears

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