Plans for three-day African-American leadership summit left up in the air THE CHAVIS CONTROVERSY

August 21, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writer

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. said last night a three-day gathering of African-American leaders from around the nation will be held without in Baltimore starting today despite his ouster as NAACP executive director.

Instead of holding the second phase of the National African-American Leadership Summit at NAACP headquarters in northwest Baltimore, daytime sessions will be held at Bethel AME Church in West Baltimore and rallies will be held at West Baltimore's Enon Baptist Church this evening and at East Baltimore's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Dr. Chavis said.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who was the center of controversy at the first summit last June, is expected to attend. "We're together. We're going to stay together, come Hell or high water," said Dr. Chavis.

It was unclear last night how many other leaders would show up.

NAACP Board Chairman Dr. William F. Gibson made a point of saying last night when he announced Dr. Chavis' firing that the summit had been "postponed." But Dr. Chavis later emerged to say he was not going to let "the lynching" halt plans for the meeting and that he was going ahead with plans for the meeting without NAACP support.

Dr. Chavis had said Friday that the lineup of guests for the meeting was to be similar to that for the first summit in June. Among those expected were the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, National Urban League President Hugh B. Price and Mr. Farrakhan.

The leadership meeting has been touted by Dr. Chavis as one of the top achievements in his year and a half at the helm of the civil rights group.

But while Dr. Chavis has credited himself for bringing together a wide range of African-American leaders, the summit in many ways symbolizes the problems that ended his tenure yesterday.

When the first session was held, it was controversial because of the presence of Minister Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam leader was invited to the gathering over the objections of Jewish groups and some NAACP members who said he should be excluded because of his sharped-tongued anti-Semitic rhetoric. An embrace from the NAACP, they argued, would give him mainstream legitimacy that he does not deserve.

Dr. Chavis defied his critics by inviting and embracing Minister Farrakhan, who, he argued, is already an undeniable presence and influence among America's 32 million black citizens. And that defiance, he said, marked a new chapter in the history of the premier U.S. civil rights group.

Minister Farrakhan aside, others had more basic concerns with the first summit: They said it was a waste of scarce NAACP dollars that yielded few -- if any -- tangible results.

The battle over the Black Muslim leader's presence at the first session eclipsed all the other action at the meeting. It also prompted some black leaders -- especially elected officials -- to shy away from the gathering. For instance, only two members of the 40-member Congressional Black Caucus attended the meeting.

It is unlikely that the turnout of elected officials would be any better if the summit reconvenes today. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the Baltimore Democrat who heads the Black Caucus, said he would try to attend the meeting. But he added that the House of Representatives' schedule, as well as the uncertain fate of Dr. Chavis, could alter his plans.

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