NAACP returns its attention to civil rights issues Officials say difficulties with finances, board over

May 17, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The NAACP, the nation's largest and oldest civil rights advocacy organization, is getting back to the business of civil rights, association leaders said yesterday, declaring the preservation of affirmative action a main goal.

The group is leaving behind three years of financial recovery and national board meetings marred by acrimony as it turns full attention back to grass-roots activism and to maintaining national influence, said officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the end of a three-day board meeting here.

"We've all brought to this a new seriousness," said Julian Bond, who was presiding over his first board meeting as chairman.

"We spent so much of the last three years recovering and reforming, particularly financially. You can't raise money and do the civil rights stuff, too," Bond said.

"We've reached a healthy plateau, and we can now afford to look at civil rights issues more closely."

Washington state campaign

To that end, the association will spend at least $50,000 in the state of Washington to fight an anti-affirmative action referendum there. And board members will descend on Seattle in October for a quarterly board meeting to call attention to Initiative 200, which if approved by voters in November, would end affirmative action in state government hiring, contracting and college admissions.

"I sense that they have recovered themselves, like America itself, from debt and self-doubt to the possibility of doing something new," said Taylor Branch, the civil rights chronicler, who spoke at the group's luncheon yesterday.

"I am hopeful."

Bond succeeded Myrlie Evers-Williams in February. Evers-Williams, with Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer, has been credited with pulling the group out of a more than $4 million debt and with bringing greater efficiency.

The organization finished two of the past three years with more than $2 million in surplus, and revenues for the first quarter of 1998 are higher than expected, Mfume said yesterday.

Bond intends to further streamline the organization by consolidating branches and raising annual dues, which, in a tiered membership system, are as low as $10. Those reforms, however, are subject to board approval.

Disputes and debate among the board's 64 members are not over; they are simply handled better, some members said yesterday.

"It's more peaceful, better communication," Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City branch, said after leaving yesterday's session.

The Washington state plan, for example, passed with a voice vote over the objections of some board members, who balked at the cost and logistics of holding the October meeting in Seattle, Bond said.

$2.5 million goal

The strategy in that state will include working with other activist organizations to raise an estimated $2.5 million needed for a media advertising campaign before the Nov. 3 state referendum, according to Lacy Steele, board member and president of the NAACP Seattle branch.

The influx of money to Washington marks a departure from the battle over a similar ballot question, Proposition 209, in California in 1996. Then, the NAACP was still in financial straits and could not match the media might of those who sought an end to affirmative action, Mfume said.

The 54 percent approval by voters in November 1996 was seen as a turning point in the attack on race, gender or nationality as considerations in hiring, admissions and contracting. The California measure was upheld as constitutional by a federal appeals court, and the Supreme Court left the lower court ruling intact last year.

"If we lose in Washington [state], this is going to mushroom across the country," said Steele. "The Northwest is becoming the new South."

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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