No men need apply

August 24, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane

NOW THAT the NAACP has given the Rev. Benjamin Chavis the boot, it's time the civil rights group hired a woman as executive director.

In early 1993, when the NAACP was searching for a replacement for its then-executive director, the Rev. Benjamin Hooks, Jewel Jackson McCabe was the lone woman among the finalists. While women have been influential in the civil rights struggle, few have held the top elected positions. For example, the NAACP has never had a female executive director -- a gender gap that was pointed out by Ms. McCabe in promoting her candidacy.

The NAACP's gender gap has become an issue again in the wake of Saturday's ouster of Mr. Chavis as the result of a lawsuit for sexual harassment and sex discrimination filed by temporary NAACP employee, Mary E. Stansel of Washington. Mr. Chavis allegedly agreed to pay Ms. Stansel up to $332,400 -- without telling the NAACP board.

In considering a successor to Mr. Chavis, the NAACP should keep at least two things in mind:

First, it's highly unlikely that a woman executive director would be accused of sexual harassment. So the chances of a repeat scandal undermining the group's credibility even further would be remote.

Second, the lack of females in NAACP leadership roles. While two-thirds of the NAACP's membership is female, the board of directors is three-quarters male, according to a recent report in The Evening Sun. Can I be the only one who sees something wrong with a group promoting racial equity that apparently ignores gender equity in its own ranks?

Surely from past experience the NAACP knows the value of having women leaders. Baltimore's Enolia McMillan, 89, a legendary teacher, is a former president of the local and national branches of the NAACP.

The late Lillie Carroll Jackson led the local chapter during the 1930s and 1940s. Her daughter, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the first black woman to practice law in Maryland, was a leader in her own right who worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She was the wife of Clarence Mitchell Jr., a highly regarded NAACP lobbyist who was widely known as "the 101st senator."

When two miscreants -- Sam and Earl Veney -- killed a Baltimore police officer in December of 1964, police suspended civil liberties and went on a rampage, kicking in the doors of the city's black residents without even the pretense of having a search warrant.

It was Juanita Mitchell whom Baltimore's black citizenry turned to for relief. And she got it for them by hauling city policemen into court where a judge reacquainted them with the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

The media -- much maligned by Mr. Chavis and his supporters during the crisis -- also perpetuate the gender gap. Almost all of the people interviewed by the media about the controversy were men.

Following are some women the NAACP should consider for the job.

* Jewel Jackson McCabe, the founder and president of the National Organization of 100 Black Women, a public-service group.

* Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, the field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP in 1963 before he was slain by an assassin.

* C. Delores Tucker, a former Pennsylvania Secretary of State, who recently was defeated by Chavis forces for a spot on the NAACP board.

* Barbara Jordan, the former Democratic congresswoman from Texas who now heads the Commission on Immigration Reform.

This is only a partial list of qualified women. In light of recent events, when choosing the next executive director of the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights group should adopt a "no men need apply" rule.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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