THE DECISION by NAACP board Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams not to seek re-election this month is disappointing but not surprising.
She was reluctant to seek the post three years ago, knowing her husband Walter Edward Williams had terminal prostate cancer.
But Mr. Williams, who has since died, persuaded his wife that she was the right person to lead the NAACP, just as he had convinced her to pursue the retrial that after 31 years led to a conviction and long prison term in the 1963 murder of her first husband, Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
Ms. Evers-Williams won a hotly contested elected with Dr. William F. Gibson, a spendthrift leader of a nearly destitute National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Immediately, she started implementing major changes in the way the civil-rights group went about its daily business.
She instituted fiscal policies that restored the faith of past benefactors. She engineered the appointment of popular Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume to replace fired NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis, who had been disgraced in a sexual-harassment and spending scandal.
She and Mr. Mfume reinvigorated the NAACP with efforts to bring more young people into the organization and restore relevancy to its agenda. The task has not been easy. Both were criticized over the perception that the NAACP no longer was committed to school integration, a change they denied. At times, Mr. Mfume and Ms. Evers-Williams have appeared out of touch with each other. She and other board members were surprised last year when Mr. Mfume began grading hotels on their affirmative-action efforts.
It also had to be painful for Ms. Evers-Williams to ask for the resignations last year of four board members accused of financial misdeeds unrelated to the NAACP. Two were longtime supporters of hers -- New York Off-Track Betting Corp. President Hazel Dukes, who admitted stealing money from an OTB employee with leukemia; and James Ghee, a Virginia lawyer who pleaded guilty to embezzling money from a client. (Also ousted were Bobby Bivens, a Californian charged with owing $20,000 in child support; and National Baptist Convention USA President Henry J. Lyons, who is accused of mishandling church funds.)
Ms. Evers-Williams' next challenge is to establish a civil rights institute in memory of Medgar Evers and then write an autobiography. The challenge for the NAACP is to find a capable successor to Myrlie Evers-Williams to work hand-in-hand with Mr. TC Mfume. That may be the more difficult task.
Pub Date: 2/13/98