NAACP cleans house

November 20, 1997|By E.R. Shipp

SOME OF THE best news I've heard in a long time came last week, and it is this: The NAACP has demanded that four of its board members step down.

In taking that step, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the NAACP chairwoman, minced no words: ''We want them to step down because the reputation of the NAACP is at stake. Far too many people have suffered for the organization to allow it to be tainted by scandal.''

While I do not revel in the misfortunes of others, this is wonderful news for several reasons.

First, it's reassuring to learn that the NAACP does indeed still have scruples. After all, this is the organization that has spent more time in recent years sorting through financial scandals than it has in taking care of its real business: the advancement of people of color.

The NAACP does not need more scandal.

One of those asked to step down is Hazel Dukes, the longtime head of the New York State Conference. She recently pleaded guilty to stealing $13,000 from a friend and former employee who, when stricken with leukemia, asked Dukes to look after her financial affairs. Dukes, like Marv Albert, has tried to put her own best spin on the situation, using the old ''I didn't do anything wrong, but I'm pleading guilty to spare my loved ones further embarrassment'' routine. But she said in open court that she had indeed violated the trust placed in her.

Joining Dukes in this lineup of the ousted is the Rev. Henry Lyons, the president of the largest black Christian denomination, the National Baptist Convention U.S.A.

Mr. Lyons, readers will recall, has violated the trust of millions of black Christians and their allies, including those who gave money for the rebuilding of black churches destroyed in a rash of arson fires. Mr. Lyons has carved out a royal lifestyle for himself, using money earmarked for the work of the National Baptist Convention.

I'm particularly glad to see the NAACP oust Mr. Lyons because that may hurry the day when church members dump him as head of the Baptist group. By pleading contrition at the annual meeting in September, he was able to stave off a challenge to his leadership. But that, I pray, was but a temporary victory.

While Mr. Lyons' sins dwarf Dukes', she has joined him in one sad -- but predictable -- response. Both have blamed their travails on ''the white media.'' That old song won't play in Peoria, and it won't play here, either. Their misfeasance has nothing to do with the color of journalism and everything to do with the color of money.

Of the other two members of this sullied NAACP quartet, one, a lawyer, was sentenced to jail and disbarred for embezzling more than $38,000 from a client's account; the other was arrested on charges of owing $20,000 in child support.

There's another reason for applauding the NAACP. In taking a stand against tainted black leadership, the NAACP establishes a precedent in holding leaders accountable for their actions. It is simply demanding the highest standards of integrity.

That's rather unusual at a time when so many churches, civil rights groups and political organizations are led by people with questionable financial and moral dealings. You'd think that the only blacks able to lead anything are the ones in trouble with the law.

A sentence from Andrew Young's autobiography ''An Easy Burden'' comes to mind. In describing his generation's embrace of the civil rights struggle, he wrote: ''We would try to change America morally. We would redeem the soul of America.''

You can't do that with immoral -- or amoral -- troops.

E.R. Shipp is a columnist for the New York Daily News.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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