NAACP casts net for members in cyberspace Civil rights group establishes presence on World Wide Web

July 10, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the tradition-minded NAACP, gray-haired elders often instruct youth: Don't forget the past.

But civil rights entered cyberspace yesterday at the NAACP's 87th annual convention, and roles reversed: Here was 17-year-old Maurice Cooper instructing Raymond Black, 60, how to navigate the organization's new World Wide Web home page.

The implicit message: Don't forget the future.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and Bell Atlantic Chairman Raymond W. Smith unveiled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's on-line presence yesterday. The web site (found at http: //www.naacp.org) offers Internet users information about the nation's oldest civil rights group and a chance to become members electronically.

By this fall, Mfume said, local NAACP leaders will be able to send e-mail to Baltimore headquarters and to one another, check their membership rolls, join discussion groups, and download position papers on issues.

The civil rights group has long sought to modernize its communications. Bell Atlantic, which paid to develop the site and update the NAACP's telephone system, will sell web site design and set-up to NAACP branches.

With bigotry already present on the Internet, Smith said: "Bell Atlantic levels the digital playing field by providing the NAACP with the means to combat cyberhate."

Local leaders like Black, of Aurora, Colo., soon were lining up at a bank of computers called the Internet Cafe to learn the system from youngsters like Cooper, a Palo Alto, Calif., student.

"We already have a computer," Black said. "When I get back, we'll get a modem, software and get online. Technology will bring youth in."

Cooper said: "The NAACP can't afford to stay out of the picture. This is a new way of reaching people."

Mfume estimates that a quarter of NAACP branches are ready to use the computer link. About one in 12 blacks has a home computer, according to the African-American Internet Association.

Mfume hopes that online communication will help speed the emergence of younger NAACP leaders. Mfume's 25-year-old youth director, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, called for "a changing of the guard" in a fiery speech Monday night. "If in fact they don't take care of us today, there'll be no NAACP tomorrow," Bryant said.

Kelly M. Alexander Jr., a former national board member from Charlotte who is calling for reform of internal politics, said Mfume might be bringing perestroika to the civil rights organization.

"NAACP politics is dark and Byzantine, like that of a banana republic or the Soviet Politburo. That has to change," said Alexander, who was recently suspended as North Carolina NAACP president in a dispute over paying bills with unauthorized checks.

Alexander was on the losing side when Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams won power last year. He said that change so far at the NAACP has amounted to replacing "one set of old people with another set of old people."

Mfume and Evers-Williams tightened their control yesterday as Midwestern opposition to relocating the Detroit regional office fizzled after a conciliatory meeting with the leaders.

Bob Dole, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, did not address the convention as scheduled yesterday morning because of what his campaign called "a major scheduling conflict." His schedule showed an afternoon appearance in Virginia before heading to last night's All-Star Game in Philadelphia.

The NAACP refused to let Jack F. Kemp, former housing secretary, take Dole's place, saying the slot was reserved only for the presidential candidate. In 1992, Kemp spoke at the NAACP convention as Republican President George Bush vacationed in Maine.

President Clinton is to address the convention today. Clinton spoke to the NAACP as a candidate in 1992.

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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