Final act of the Chavis drama

October 26, 1994

No one can take any satisfaction in what appears to be the final act of the messy drama that culminated earlier this year with the ouster of Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis as NAACP executive director. Last week Mr. Chavis dropped all claims against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for more than $300,000 in salary and benefits due on the balance of his three-year contract and agreed to pay back the $76,000 it lent him to make a down payment on his house.

The out-of-court settlement appears to end what threatened to be a protracted embarrassment for the nation's oldest civil rights organization. It leaves Mr. Chavis and the NAACP to deal independently with a lawsuit by former employee Mary E. Stansel. It was Mr. Chavis' use of NAACP money to settle a sex discrimination claim by Ms. Stansel that precipitated his Aug. 20 firing. The NAACP has moved to be dropped as a defendant in that case. At a press conference Monday, Mr. Chavis expressed bitterness over what he claimed was shabby treatment by the NAACP. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he brought his troubles upon himself largely through his own poor judgment.

The NAACP still must address allegations of financial improprieties against Dr. Chavis' friend and mentor, NAACP board chairman Dr. William F. Gibson. The national board voted Oct. 15 to order an independent audit of all NAACP officers, including Dr. Chavis. Dr. Gibson has denied misusing any NAACP funds. But it is unlikely the group will be able to redeem its tarnished image until a full accounting of its affairs is completed. Achieving that very likely may require Mr. Gibson to step down as board chairman as well.

The NAACP needs to get this episode behind it and move on. Mr. Chavis' tenure at the helm produced showy rhetorical fireworks but virtually nothing of substance regarding the pressing problems facing African Americans in the 1990s. The next executive director not only will have to clean up the mess Mr. Chavis left behind but set a new course that will enable the NAACP to regain the national leadership position it once enjoyed. The NAACP should be more important than the career of any one individual. Let us hope the group takes that lesson from this painful episode as it moves to re-establish itself as a leading voice for civil rights.

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