NAACP begins drive for members, money

August 23, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Ann LoLordo contributed to this article.

The NAACP was under new management yesterday, but its immediate goals were much like those of fired Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr: recruit members and raise money.

In another echo of the ousted leader, the new managers said Dr. Chavis had correctly reported membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to be 675,000 -- disputing a report by syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowan, based on internal NAACP documents, that put the figure closer to 400,000.

That left the NAACP board in the position of having fired Saturday night an executive director who raised the organization's membership by 185,000, or 38 percent, in only 16 1/2 months.

However, two board members, who asked not to be identified, said they learned from NAACP staff last weekend that the Rowan numbers were correct. They said the closely held membership count was made every year to allocate delegates to the NAACP's annual convention.

One board member said Dr. Chavis once told an NAACP committee that the stated membership totals were already overblown when he took over the organization and that he intended to inflate them by 100,000 more.

"We accepted that," the board member said. "Now we're getting into a situation where people say, 'Come clean.' We should have nothing to hide about the actual numbers."

Terhea A. Washington, an NAACP spokeswoman, said the Rowan figure did not take into account members whose renewal was pending and other factors.

Ben P. Andrews Jr., vice chairman of the board, called membership a "bogus issue. . . . I don't know if it's 625,000 or 675,000, but it's certainly not the numbers I read in Carl Rowan's column."

Earl T. Shinhoster, an NAACP veteran named interim senior administrator, announced yesterday a crash 30-day fund-raising and membership drive. Fred H. Rasheed, the NAACP's economic development chief, will assist Mr. Shinhoster.

"Our goal is to get over 1 million members by the end of the year," Mr. Shinhoster, 44, the NAACP's national field secretary, told a news conference at NAACP headquarters in Northwest Baltimore. "Membership and money is the lifeblood of the NAACP."

The NAACP now faces a deficit of more than $3 million, sources say. Dr. William F. Gibson, chairman of the board, would not say yesterday how big the deficit is.

Mr. Shinhoster added that the NAACP hoped to go ahead with establishing an office in South Africa, a Chavis initiative approved last month by the annual convention.

The NAACP board fired Dr. Chavis, 46, after learning that he agreed to pay Mary E. Stansel, a former aide, up to $332,400 to ward off a threatened lawsuit.

The NAACP has yet to reach a separation agreement with Dr. Chavis, who had a three-year contract at about $200,000 a year.

Dr. Gibson said he was sure that Dr. Chavis and the NAACP would reach an amicable settlement.

"I feel regretful that what happened to Ben Chavis happened. I feel regretful," the 61-year-old chairman said. "I would feel that way about any individual loss of a job, any individual who suffered in the way he must be suffering today."

Some NAACP members also demanded the ouster of Dr. Gibson, the chairman, who had strongly supported Dr. Chavis. But, as the Stansel controversy unfolded over the past three weeks, Dr. Gibson distanced himself from the executive director. The move to topple him fizzled.

Dr. Gibson, who has been chairman since 1985, said yesterday that he would not resign. He said he has not decided whether to seek re-election at the NAACP annual meeting in February.

Dr. Chavis unnerved some NAACP contributors by maintaining close ties with Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. But NAACP officials said yesterday that they supported dialogue with Minister Farrakhan, who has a history of anti-Jewish remarks.

Mr. Andrews, an investment banker from Connecticut, said he was "insulted by the media, who think we can't meet with Farrakhan without losing our way."

"Minister Farrakhan is an important part of the African-American community and scene, and he can't be denied because of differing ideologies," he said.

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