NAACP board ousts Chavis as director 'No voices raised in anger' during five-hour meeting THE CHAVIS CONTROVERSY

August 21, 1994|By James Bock and Ann LoLordo | James Bock and Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Michael A. Fletcher, Ivan Penn and Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

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 has accused him of sexual harassment.

In a five-hour, closed-door meeting, the board voted overwhelmingly -- in a show of hands -- to ask the 46-year-old minister to resign the post he has held for 15 months. Earl T. Shinhoster, the NAACP's national field secretary, would be named interim executive director, according to board sources. Those sources also said that an oversight committee would 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.

The vote on Dr. Chavis' tenure took place while he was outside the NAACP headquarters' Roy Wilkins Auditorium, where the board began meeting at 1:36 p.m.

Dr. Robert W. Gilliard, a board member from Mobile, Ala., described his colleagues as "very thoughtful, very pensive." He said the board meeting "went quite smoothly."

"I came here with an open mind. I reached my conclusion based on factual information," he said. "There were no voices raised in anger. There was no shouting."

When asked what Dr. Chavis' defense was, Dr. Gilliard said, "What it always is: 'I didn't do it.' "

"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. They're going to be some changes made. We learned a lesson from this one."

Board Chairman William F. Gibson called the emergency meeting after it was reported that Dr. Chavis, who has headed the NAACP since April 1993, made a secret deal to pay Mary E. Stansel up to $332,400 to avoid being sued on sexual discrimination and harassment charges.

The revelation touched off one of the greatest internal crises in the 85-year history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Rodney Orange, the president of the Baltimore NAACP branch, said a report on Dr. Chavis' handling of the Stansel lawsuit prepared by the NAACP general counsel was very critical of the executive director.

Dr. Chavis and most of the board members had not left the headquarters building at 9 o'clock last night, even though the vote appeared to have been taken before 6:30 p.m.

Earl King, president of the No Dope Express Foundation in Chicago and a Chavis supporter, said he spoke with Dr. Chavis after the board made its decision.

"Dr. Chavis will still continue to be in the struggle for the little people because he's not given up and because he's a man of courage and a man of God," said Mr. King, who came to Baltimore to back his friend. "Dr. Chavis is in good spirits. His family is there. He is sending out peace and love, to maintain and be calm, and continue to live life. His life will not end because he's not executive director at this point."

Soon after the board vote, the lobby of the NAACP headquarters was jammed with Dr. Chavis' most ardent supporters, the youth members. Some were angry. Some had tears in their eyes.

"We are upset, we are outraged," said Darnell Armstrong, a youth member from New York state. "We're going to clean house."

Holding up his NAACP membership card, Glenn Dowling of New York said, "As of next week you're going to see these returned to the national office."

Youth members from South and North Carolina were so upset that they crowded at the front door of the NAACP headquarters, hoping to get inside and persuade board members to keep Dr. Chavis, said Mr. Orange, the Baltimore branch president and a supporter of Mr. Chavis'.

"We had to block the entrance to the room so they wouldn't charge in," he said.

But, he added, the reaction of the young people was "more sad than anything."

National assessment

As word of Dr. Chavis' ouster began spreading, supporters and critics across the nation offered their assessment of the events.

"This is a particularly difficult time for many of us who are members of the NAACP," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who had worked with Dr. Chavis on several leadership issues in the past year. "Ben and his family are in my prayers in this, the hour of their great disappointment. . . . Ben may have erred in judgment, but he never erred in his commitment to people. For his contributions to the struggle, equal rights and civils rights, we are eternally grateful."

The board's closed-door meeting made it difficult to judge the evidence or the panel's conclusion, Mr. Mfume said. "It is clear, however, that the NAACP board apparently wanted a change believing as it does that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few," he said.

Michael Meyers, a former NAACP official and an arch critic of Dr. Chavis, said the board's decision had saved the organization.

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