NAACP staying put

Group's national headquarters and 80 jobs to stay in Baltimore

August 16, 2010

It is always nice to win. That is our first reaction to the news late last week that the national headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — and its 80 or so jobs are staying in Baltimore instead of moving to Washington.

This was a bit of a surprise, because for some years now it looked as if the venerable civil-rights organization's one-time leaders, Julian Bond and Bruce S. Gordon, were intent on relocating the headquarters from Seton Business Park in Northwest Baltimore to the Washington area or another location outside the city. Sites in the District of Columbia and at the National Harbor complex in Prince George's County were mentioned as possible new homes for the nation's oldest civil rights organization, which recently celebrated its 100 anniversary. One plan called for selling the headquarters on Mount Hope Drive, which the organization has occupied since 1986.

In February, Roslyn M. Brock succeeded Mr. Bond as chairman of the NAACP, with Mr. Bond becoming chairman emeritus. Mr. Gordon, the organization's president who in 2006 had announced the relocation plans, has also moved on, succeeded in that post in 2008 by Benjamin Jealous, the youngest leader in the venerable organization's history.

Apparently, the change in leadership and an inability to find a buyer for the Mount Hope Drive property coincided with a change in attitude about moving. The group now plans to renovate its Baltimore headquarters.

As it undergoes those renovations, the organization will no doubt take the occasion to consider whether its image and purpose might also be in need of a makeover. The NAACP has been hit by declining membership in recent years, and many Americans -- including many young African-Americans -- have increasingly questioned its relevance at a time when America is led by a black president.

Unfortunately, the organization didn't help itself in the matter of Shirley Sherrod, the black federal worker who was unfairly and wrongly painted as racist in a video circulated by a right-wing Internet provocateur. The NAACP quickly denounced Ms. Sherrod, only to be forced to backtrack once all the facts were revealed.

We have not been among the doubters that the NAACP is and will continue to be important to the national dialogue about race. That President Barack Obama occupies the White House does little to change the fact that as a group, blacks, with their much higher rates of poverty, unemployment and other social ills, are feeling a sharper sting from this recession than most other Americans. The NAACP's challenge moving forward is to find new ways to deliver its message that even in 2010, race still matters in America and equality is still an elusive goal.

As for last week's good news, kudos is due the Baltimore Development Corporation, which had worked with the NAACP to keep the headquarters here. We agree with BDC's Phil Croskey that this is a win for a city that has seen too many major institutions pull up stakes in recent years.

We, of course, also applaud the NAACP for choosing to stay put and fix up. That is the Baltimore way.

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