The inauguration of Myrlie Evers-Williams as the new head of the NAACP doesn't mean all of its problems are suddenly solved. Not only must she get the NAACP back on firm financial footing, she must take steps to make the nation's oldest civil rights organization relevant in the '90s.
Ironically, that is to some degree the same task her first husband, Medgar Evers, had trying to demonstrate the relevance of the NAACP in Mississippi when Martin Luther King Jr.'s upstart Southern Christian Leadership Conference was receiving more attention. Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963 by racists who thought he did his job too well.
Mrs. Evers-Williams assumes leadership of the NAACP at a time when many people question the need for civil rights organizations or any other special efforts to overcome the legacy of past discrimination. There is ample evidence, however, that the fight against racism is not yet complete.
Just last week the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute released a report showing black Americans still trail whites in wages and employment opportunities even though blacks have significantly closed the education gap with whites.
In 1940, the median level of education for a black man was 5.4 years compared to 8.7 years for a white man. In 1990, the figures climbed to 12.6 for black men compared to 12.8 years for whites. But the unemployment rate for blacks continues to be more than double that of whites -- 14 percent compared to 6 percent in 1993. Anyone who believes racism has nothing at all to do with the disparity is being unrealistic.
The extent to which African-Americans are treated differently by virtue of their skin color was made plain last week when a well-dressed black executive leaving a commuter train in New York was stopped and questioned by police as a crime suspect. Black Enterprise magazine vice president Earl G. Graves Jr. learned his skin color and gender were the only things he had in common with the man wanted by police.
The $1.7 million pledged to the NAACP upon Mrs. Evers-Williams' election shows many people believe the organization is still needed to battle discrimination. She should also consider the pledges a vote of confidence in her ability to end the financial mismanagement that has preoccupied the NAACP and kept it from being a more vital tool to erase the remaining vestiges of racism.