WASHINGTON — Washington. -- I had recently decided that the NAACP was doomed; that a once-great social and political force was beyond salvation because of the greed, corruption, venality and egomaniacal ignorance of some of its leaders.
I knew that there was no way to get enough donations to wipe out the NAACP's $4.5 million debt when previous supporters were saying ''No more money!'' or even filing lawsuits against the organization that was the essence of integrity and nation-changing influence in the days of Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, Walter White -- and, yes, a Mississippi leader named Medgar Evers.
Only a week ago, when I got new devastating documents (which I shall soon make public) of extravagant misuse of funds, I felt that the only future the NAACP had was bankruptcy and criminal prosecution of the leaders who have been ripping off its resources for a decade.
But this week, a brave women -- Medgar's widow -- stepped forward to offer her leadership.
Myrlie Medgar Evers-Williams of Bend, Oregon, decided to run for the chairmanship of the NAACP, challenging William F. Gibson, the man singly most responsible for driving the nation's oldest civil-rights organization into economic ruin and political-social impotence and disgrace. (Watch CBS's ''60 Minutes'' at 7 p.m. Sunday, to get a thorough report on the tragedy that threatens to destroy the NAACP.)
I have produced evidence (and will soon give more) that Dr. Gibson and his ''tribe'' not only misused the NAACP's meager funds for their pleasure and gain, but that they did so in ways that call for criminal prosecution.
I learned Wednesday that Dr. Gibson and his cronies have moved immediately to use NAACP money to ensure that his supporters will get funds enabling them to be at next week's meeting in New York City where a new chairman will be elected.
Dr. Gibson's backers also began to place calls to board members telling them not to worry about the Coopers & Lybrand audit now under way because it ''won't be ready before our meeting.'' Dr. Gibson's faithful are being told to spread the word that ''Myrlie isn't up to the job, with her sick husband.''
Perhaps the greatest story of love and devotion to the NAACP lies in the fact that Mrs. Evers-Williams persistently said she could not run for the chairmanship because her husband, former longshoreman Walter Williams, is all but bedridden with cancer.
At one point recently, Mr. Williams embraced his wife and reminded her that he had been beaten and shot at during the labor struggles, but he fought on.
''You must not let my illness stop you,'' he said. ''I'll go into a nursing home before I watch you let the crooks prevail. Go for it. You owe it to Medgar and the others who died for the NAACP.''
Myrlie Evers-Williams fought doggedly for 31 years before bringing about the conviction of a Mississippi racist, Byron de la Beckwith, for the assassination of her husband. NAACP board member Marc Stepp of Detroit has warned her that Dr. Gibson's backers are totally cowed by him and are ''the most cowardly bunch of black men I've ever seen in my life.''
But some are very slick. Some may even be criminal.
Still, Mrs. Evers-Williams dares to take on the Gibson gang the same way she took on the Mississippi cabal of racists. But she does not have three decades to defeat the Gibson crowd.
So vast thousands of NAACP lovers are praying that on February she will be chosen to make the NAACP once again an organization of integrity and principle, and once again a force at the White House, in the Congress and in every place of power in this land.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.