Mfume's call for hotel boycott takes NAACP board by surprise Some members say he should have consulted more closely with them

March 07, 1997|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume surprised members of his own board of directors when he called last week for a boycott of 10 major hotel chains, and some say he did not consult closely enough with the policy-making body.

At least two board members learned of the news while staying in hotels that flunked the NAACP's test of 16 lodging chains, board sources say.

Eight hotel chains received F's for not cooperating with an NAACP survey of hiring, promotion and procurement.

Two others took part but got failing grades.

Board member Joe Madison said the board of directors did not vote on the hotels initiative nor discuss it in detail.

"I am certainly philosophically in tune with [Mfume] on this issue," said Madison, a Washington radio host.

"But we have to protect the integrity of the process. The board is responsible for maintaining policy."

Board member Leon Russell of Florida said: "There definitely should have been some more information about it, what the impact was going to be and what folks needed to do."

Mfume said yesterday that he reported on the hotels initiative at board meetings in July, October and February.

"I don't think I could have communicated it any better," he said. "I think it was clearly sufficient.

"We'll find a way to work together," Mfume said. "This is a big organization to filter communication through, and it's always challenging no matter what the issue."

Mfume left Congress 13 months ago to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's largest civil rights group, which has headquarters in Baltimore.

While he appears to enjoy the board's support, some members believe that he must communicate better with Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams and the executive committee.

Evers-Williams, who has led a two-year effort to revitalize the NAACP after financial improprieties helped plunge the civil rights group into debt, learned of Mfume's Feb. 26 Washington news conference after the fact, board sources said.

She was traveling in the South at the time.

Evers-Williams would not comment, saying: "I see this as an internal discussion."

Mfume's mention of a boycott at the news conference upset some board members.

The NAACP has regarded boycotts warily since it nearly went bankrupt in the 1970s while defending itself against a lawsuit brought by Mississippi merchants boycotted by the local NAACP.

In 1966, the Port Gibson, Miss., NAACP declared a boycott without the national board's approval. Mississippi courts later awarded a $1.2 million judgment against the NAACP, ruling that the Port Gibson action violated a state law against secondary boycotts.

To appeal the ruling, the NAACP was forced to post a $1.6 million bond in 1976.

After a national fund-raising drive fell short, the AFL-CIO bailed out the civil rights group with an $800,000 loan.

The NAACP finally won the case in 1982 before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It came close to wiping us out," said Julian Bond, a veteran activist. "It made the organization gun-shy of that word boycott."

But Mfume said yesterday, "These are not days to be gun-shy.

"These are days to be daring in our initiatives, balanced in our approach and fair in our dealings."

Some board members said Mfume acted within his authority.

"Quite frankly, I don't expect him to bring everything like that before the board," Bond said.

Robert Starr of Texas said Mfume's announcement "kind of caught us off-guard. I would have liked for it to be handled a little differently, but as president-CEO he's calling the shots."

Mfume said the hotels initiative is having an impact.

He said representatives of three hotel chains that received "F's" have scheduled meetings with him next week.

Starr, whose Fort Worth, Texas, branch is host of the board's May meeting, said he had broken off talks with a Radisson hotel, which got an "F" in the survey.

"We can always go back to what I was brought up doing: staying in homes," Starr said.

The National Urban League, one of 55 black organizations to endorse the hotels initiative, has distributed the report card to its 113 affiliates, said M. Gasby Greely, a spokeswoman.

Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, which worked on the survey, said Mfume put the NAACP on the cutting edge of civil rights with the initiative.

"This organization is fortunate to have him as a manager and should recognize that," he said.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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