Tough battle for NAACP Mfume mission: Leader of civil rights group wants members to stop fighting each other.

July 09, 1996

THE NATION'S OLDEST civil rights organization might be compared to a heavyweight boxer who has taken some powerful blows. If he can regroup, he can survive. If he can survive, he can win.

Addressing the 87th annual convention of the NAACP, President Kweisi Mfume asked members to stop dwelling on the internal squabbles that have threatened to floor the NAACP and concentrate on the real fight -- the battle to end racial discrimination in America. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with him.

The organization has been divided in recent years over the twin issues of leadership and direction. During his brief 16-month tenure, former executive director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. upset NAACP stalwarts with his overtures to young firebrands and radicals such as Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Chavis was finally fired in 1994 for using organization money to pay off a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. Then accusations of inappropriate spending and waste were leveled at NAACP board chairman William F. Gibson, who was subsequently defeated by Myrlie Evers-Williams in his re-election bid last year.

Mr. Mfume urged NAACP members to get past the disagreements birthed during the tenures of Mr. Chavis and Mr. Gibson. "I will fight until hell freezes over not to let anything divide us any longer. We are family," he said. But the words Monday didn't impress every member of the NAACP. For the second day, some Midwesterners continued to protest against Mr. Mfume's decision to move the regional office in Detroit to Baltimore. "If we are family, families take care of family members," said Carl L. Breeding, president of the Michigan NAACP.

But Mr. Mfume is trying to make staffing decisions that are best for the NAACP. If combining offices bolsters its financial position, which turned negative in the Chavis/Gibson years, then Mr. Mfume should do that. He needs time away from fund-raising to concentrate on the NAACP's main mission. In particular, Mr. Mfume wants to reach out to young people and show them why an NAACP is still essential. It's not enough to tell them that discrimination persists. The NAACP must prove it remains a force that can help end discrimination.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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