NAACP opens 90th meeting with eyes on 2000 election

Hillary Clinton, Jackson, Gore, Albright expected

July 09, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

With a heavy focus on political issues and economic development, the NAACP gathers today in New York for the start of its 90th annual convention.

About 14,000 people are expected to attend the six-day event that has a packed agenda, including confirmed appearances by Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"This convention is pivotal and symbolic," said Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive of the NAACP. "We've come back to the place where the organization was founded, in Manhattan, in a small apartment. It's important now to define our focus going into the next century. The issues have changed but the disparities still exist."

With a convention theme "NAACP: 90 Years of Making Democracy Work," the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has its eye on next year's national and local elections.

"Since 1909, the NAACP has strived to make the democracy real for all people," said spokesman John C. White. "We've been trying to hold government's feet to the fire and say, `Let's make this work for everyone.' "

To that end, the organization has invited a slew of political leaders and candidates.

An appearance by Hillary Clinton is unconfirmed but she is expected to speak Monday. Gore will speak on Thursday.

Organization leaders will announce results of follow-up studies on NAACP report cards on minority hiring records of hotel and telecommunications companies, and will unveil plans to invigorate African-American voters for next year, White said.

Julian Bond, the NAACP board chairman, "has set a tone that we need to be about political action, about voter participation and education," said Edythe Fleming Hall of Upper Marlboro, who will be attending the convention for the first time as a national board member.

"We have one heck of a job to do because the census is coming up and we need to convince hard-to-reach individuals to participate," she said.

Joe Madison, a former board member who is host of a radio talk show in Montgomery County, stressed that African-Americans must make their voices heard politically at a time when congressional districts are about to be re-configured following the census.

"This is one of the few times in the political cycle that the census will be taken during a major presidential national campaign," Madison said.

The convention also will include:

A speech by economist Julianne Malveaux on women's issues.

Discussions among youth -- who will make up some 5,000 of those attending -- with writer and commentator Farai Chideya, a Baltimore native; Atallah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X; and Essence magazine editor Susan Taylor.

Debates with national opinion-makers on police brutality, the 2000 census, and the aging face of civil rights activism.

Attention to international issues, with an appearance by Albright, a forum on Africa and African-Americans and a resolution by the national board to condemn slavery in the Sudan.

The convention will mark Mfume's first public appearance before the national membership of the NAACP since announcing in May that he would not run for mayor of Baltimore.

For some concerned with NAACP leadership, the issue is still being laid to rest.

"I think Kweisi took a step backward flirting with the mayoral campaign in Baltimore," Madison said. "He's in an excellent position to be the right man at the right time, but he has to focus."

Members from Baltimore, meanwhile, will be looking toward next summer's 91st annual gathering -- as hosts. Local delegates will turn over a check for $150,000 next week to national NAACP officials to help pay for the event.

"The convention next year is expected to be bigger than ever," said G. I. Johnson, president of the Baltimore branch. "We've already started getting ready."

Pub Date: 7/09/99

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