Keeping the NAACP home

August 02, 2006

Three years from now, the NAACP will turn 100. Where will it celebrate its centennial? At a shiny new office complex overlooking the Potomac River in Prince George's County? In downtown Washington? Or in Baltimore, where the oldest civil-rights organization in the country moved its national headquarters from New York 20 years ago?

The answer may depend upon whether Maryland or Baltimore can overcome strong aspirations by the organization's board of directors -- and particularly Chairman Julian Bond -- to relocate to the Washington area. Mr. Bond, who lives in Washington, is said to prefer the accessibility and the cachet of the capital so he and other NAACP policymakers can be more effective in the arena of national politics. Naturally, he has enlisted the aid of Bruce S. Gordon, who was named NAACP president a year ago, to find a suitable location. But make no mistake, the inclination to leave Baltimore predates Mr. Gordon and is so ingrained in the top echelon's thinking that it will take a very hard sell to keep the organization in the city, or, for that matter, even in the state.

We could argue that history and heritage make Baltimore an ideal home for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. We could argue that renaming an airport for Thurgood Marshall and opening a new museum of African-American culture are solid proof that the city and the state are committed to commemorating the work of civil-rights pioneers, both famous and obscure. And they would be good arguments. But they wouldn't be enough to seal a deal.

We can't blame the NAACP for wanting a new headquarters. Its office building in Northwest Baltimore is inefficient, hard to find and not befitting an organization of its stature. What the NAACP needs is a centrally located, well-outfitted building with at least 50,000 square feet of floor space. It should be near a Metro station. And its 110 employees shouldn't have to commute too far or pay too much of their wages for comfortable housing. We're not sure either Washington -- where housing can cost three times Baltimore's rate -- or the $2 billion glitzy National Harbor complex in Prince George's County -- which will not have a Metro stop -- is the best place for a new home.

With a selection of available office buildings in downtown Baltimore and the enticement of low-interest loans -- provided by the city and the state -- the NAACP could have a new place to celebrate its 100th anniversary without ever having to leave home.

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