The best man to lead the NAACP just might not be a man

December 04, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

HEY, DON'T shoot the messenger.

I couldn't make this stuff up. But you just have to hear some of the names being bandied about as to who should be the next president and chief executive officer of the NAACP now that Kweisi Mfume has resigned effective Jan. 1 of next year.

Don't you pine away for those days when what was then called the NAACP's executive secretary was selected from someone who had toiled anonymously but effectively within the organization for years? But the era when a James Weldon Johnson would be replaced by a Walter White, who would be replaced by a Roy Wilkins, seems long gone.

So are you ready for one of those mentioned as an Mfume successor? Someone seriously suggested former President Bill Clinton.

Before you bring up the matter of Clinton's race - the claim that he is America's "first black president" notwithstanding - remember that the NAACP was founded as a multiracial organization in 1909. Its first executive secretary was white. The NAACP didn't get a black executive secretary until Johnson assumed the position in 1920.

Still, you have to figure that, with the organization facing an Internal Revenue Service audit, having a horny guy at the helm is not what the NAACP needs. Sorry, Bubba.

Ron Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the NAACP needs a "more aggressive" type of leadership than the one Mfume provided. He suggested that California Rep. Maxine Waters, the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, might provide such leadership.

The problem there is that Waters is a liberal Democrat from the House of Representatives who would replace Mfume, who came to the NAACP as a liberal Democrat from the House of Representatives. Add NAACP board Chairman Julian Bond, who was a liberal Democrat who served as a Georgia state legislator, and the organization would have trouble conning - er, uh, I mean convincing - folks into believing that the nation's oldest civil rights organization is as nonpartisan as it claims to be.

One way around that would be to select someone else whose name has been mentioned as an Mfume successor: departing Secretary of State Colin Powell. Though he's a moderate Republican, Powell, like nearly every NAACP leader, all but genuflects when the words "affirmative action" are mentioned. There would be nothing wrong with that if the affirmative action involved was the affirmative action described in President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Executive Order 11246: the kind done without regard to race, color, creed or ethnic origin. But the affirmative action espoused by NAACP and other liberal black leaders is more akin to racial preferences.

But agreeing with the NAACP board about racial preferences - uh, er, I mean affirmative action - wouldn't be the hurdle Powell would have to clear. Can you imagine the e-mail exchange between Powell and Bond after the latter launches into another of his "Bush and the Republicans are Talibans" tirades?

OK, so for all practical purposes we've ruled out Powell, who some Americans have indicated they would like to see as president of the United States, not president of the NAACP. Who's left?

Comedian, actor, philanthropist and curmudgeon in high dudgeon Bill Cosby has been mentioned as a replacement. Cosby's remarks at a May "celebration" of the 50-year anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated schools - in which Cosby chastised poor blacks for not "holding up their end of the bargain" either socially or scholastically - have kept him in the news the entire year. Cosby has crisscrossed the country since then, holding town hall meetings about the education crisis in black America. At first glance, he would seem like a perfect fit.

But if we bandy about the last name of Cosby as the next NAACP president and CEO, let's choose the right one. A better fit might be Camille Cosby, Bill Cosby's wife. She has certain advantages.

The woman always does her homework. She's bright, articulate, pulls no punches when she speaks and takes no prisoners. In short, she's Julian Bond minus the biliousness.

Most important, she's a woman. And it's time a woman was president of the NAACP. While it's not true that Rosa Parks "started" the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery, Ala., bus 49 years ago, it is true that since 1955 black women have been the backbone of the civil rights movement.

When asked at a Tuesday press conference whether the next president might be a woman, Bond said he didn't want to prejudice the selection process.

But some of us do, Mr. Bond. We want to prejudice it very much - in favor of a woman.

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