NAACP ready for next step Debt reduced: Civil rights issues facing nation must again become top priority.

February 22, 1997

WITH A MOUNTAIN of debt reduced to a mole hill, NAACP members are impatient to turn their attention to important civil rights issues. Board Chairman Myrlie Evers-Williams began the budget-cutting process that has erased the $4.8 million debt that existed when she was elected two years ago. The job was completed by President Kweisi Mfume, who announced at last weekend's annual meeting in New York that the NAACP last year took in $3.7 million more than it spent.

Raising that much money in his first year as president has kept Mr. Mfume busy. But some NAACP members have complained that they would prefer to see him more actively involved in civil rights debate. Mr. Mfume had to do some old-fashioned preaching at the annual meeting to convince the rank-and-file that he still deserves their confidence as the best person to lead the nation's oldest civil rights organization. But he apparently succeeded.

His embrace of Maryland NAACP President Hanley Norment was more than a symbolic gesture. While expressing a need for unity, Mr. Mfume stressed that the state chapter's protest leading to cancellation of a speech by Justice Clarence Thomas amounted to misspent energy. It didn't change the way Justice Thomas thinks. Even as he said he doesn't mind dissent, Mr. Mfume also indicated he will only tolerate so much. He chastised frequent critic Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition for being "more quoted than the chairman."

Mr. Mfume's rhetoric and demeanor pleased the membership, for now, but it was clear that their contentment remains somewhat superficial. They want more. The NAACP has always been an important lobbying group. Its members expect Mr. Mfume to use his considerable talents as a former congressman to influence legislation on affirmative action and other civil rights issues before the nation. If he doesn't deliver he will find himself in disfavor regardless of how much money he can raise.

It was good to hear Mr. Mfume make a commitment to keep the NAACP national headquarters in Baltimore. The organization has not been pleased with its offices in the Seton Business Park and is worried about remodeling costs. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who wants Baltimore to be a mecca for non-profit organizations, must make sure he doesn't lose the NAACP. He and Mr. Mfume should be able to come up with some solid alternatives.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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