Bruce Gordon’s resignation as President (formerly
called the Executive Director) of the NAACP “shocked the world”
as Cassius Clay once said. It even shocked half the folks in the
NAACP. It didn’t shock me, though. In my first book, Souls
For Sale:The Diary of an Ex-Colored Man, which is about my
experience as a young change activist in the NAACP in the 1980s,
I entitled the first chapter of the book, “The Last Dinosaur…For
Real". In my view, Gordon's resignation is just another case
of “the Dinosaur” winning again.
Gordon said the NAACP wasn’t a “fit” for him. Bruce
Gordon is a change activist. No change activist is a fit for the
NAACP. George Benson once sang, “Everything must change — nothing
stays the same…”; George must never have been in the NAACP. Everything
in the world changes, except the NAACP. I’m sure Bruce
thought he could change the NAACP. Hell, we all thought that.
One thing you discover once you get in is that the NAACP is change-resistant.
You don’t know that if you’ve never served in the NAACP, or tried
to make a change in the NAACP. In fact, you can’t know the NAACP
if you’ve never been in the NAACP.
Most people join the NAACP, which means writing a
check, and a small one, at that. Few people have ever done any
advocacy work in an NAACP branch. Joining the NAACP is a lot different
than working in the NAACP. Bruce Gordon probably didn’t know that.
He knows now.
Let’s examine this in its proper context. The NAACP
is the “holy grail” of the civil rights community. People bow,
and whisper its name and cross their breast in deference to its
biggest accomplishment, overturning “Separate But Equal” de jure
segregation in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.
There are two important things to note here. Firstly, it was the
NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund (a separate organization)
that won Brown, and not the NAACP. Nonetheless, because
the NAACP seeded (help secure funding) the LDF and had oversight
in its first thirty years, the NAACP gets all the credit and the
NAACP Legal Defense Fund (which separated permanently from the
NAACP in the 1970s) gets hardly any. Secondly, Brown did
not end Jim Crow, it just provided the legal sanction to end it.
The SCLC-inspired Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr., fought the ten year Massive Resistance to Brown
in the streets, with direct-action non-violent protest. The
NAACP and its leadership (the organization, Roy Wilkins, the LDF,
and Thurgood Marshall) vehemently disagreed with Dr. King's tactics.
However, since the NAACP was banned in Alabama, for refusing to
turn over its membership lists, King came to national prominence
for his work in challenging the segregation laws in Alabama (Montgomery,
Birmingham and Selma). Excuse my digression… but it is significant
to point out that the NAACP was there, but largely in the courts.
Since 1968, the year of Dr. King’s murder and by
most historical accounts, the end of the civil rights movement,
the NAACP has had a minimal role in changing anything in the civil
rights arena. In fact, during the most damaging period of the
Post Civil Rights Era, the Reagan Revolution of 1980-1992, the
NAACP essentially was silent. Twice, the Rev. Jesse Jackson had
to run for President, and Minister Louis Farrakhan had to attack
the system for Black civil and economic concerns to be heard.
Today, however, all express eternal gratitude to
the NAACP, even though the organization has become irrelevant
in the contemporary civil rights movement. The sentimentality
associated with the NAACP is unheralded. People cry at conventions
and Image Awards, eternally grateful for the work of the NAACP
— work that was done 50 years ago — without really understanding
the work that isn’t getting done today. That’s why Black
people are now in worse condition, both economically and socially
than they were 30 years ago.
It’s almost sacrilegious to speak against the NAACP.
Criticism, however, is the first step toward self-improvement.
Nothing exempt from critique improves. The NAACP’s organizational
structure and advocacy approach are antiquated, yet they refuse
to change. What changes have been made haven’t been for the better.
The NAACP’s “bread and butter” was its presence in the courts,
and yet the NAACP rarely sues anymore. The greatest economic reciprocity
program, "Fairshare", developed by the NAACP in the
1970s, has been phased out. Everybody has a corporate social responsibility
and accountability program, except the NAACP.
When Ben Hooks, the civil rights era leader and republican
who refused to attack Reagan, left, it was said that the NAACP
needed a “youth transfusion". Ben Chavis was hired, brought
in thousands of youth but was forced out under a cloud of economic
and sexual improprieties. Most younger members left with him.
Kweisi Mfume came in, declaring the NAACP needed to be restructured.
He believed it had too many board members (64) and too many branches
(2,200). When he left, nine years later, it had the same number
of board members and more branches (now 2,500). Then Gordon came
in, trying to find a new advocacy niche.
Social services would, of course, make the NAACP
eligible for foundation money and larger corporate dollars, however,
NAACP Board Chair, Julian Bond, a vestige of the civil rights
era, said, “The NAACP doesn’t do social services. We do civil
rights." Since when, 1954? Okay, 1964. Don’t misunderstand
me; I respect the NAACP. I’ve consulted to the NAACP in my post-presidency
years (1992-1995). I support the NAACP on some fronts (ACT-SO,
Image Awards). I just know there are some things I can’t expect
from the NAACP, and change is one of them.
The NAACP is not only a dinosaur, it’s a two-headed
dinosaur, led by a President and a Board Chair that have paralyzed
the organization since the Ben Hooks-Margaret Bush Wilson battles
of the 1970s. For the last 30 years, the NAACP Board Chair and
its Chief Executive (Executive Director, now the President) have
rarely been on the same page. And as for the defining moments
in Black America for the past thirty years, the NAACP is mostly
on the wrong side. It didn’t support Jesse for President in 1984.
It didn’t speak out against the Clarence Thomas nomination in
1991. It was one of two major Black organizations that didn’t
support the Million Man March in 1995. The National Baptist Convention
was the other, which is the same group that kicked King out of
their convention in 1961. It has refused to call boycotts against
major discriminators for the past 20 years and that has had devastating
effects on the Black economy. A “report card” is the best we get
out of the NAACP. SCLC called for more boycotts in their first
five years than the NAACP has in almost 100 years. Now, the organization
has resisted the latest effort to make the NAACP relevant. Bruce
Gordon found out that the NAACP Board still likes to micro-manage.
He’d change before the NAACP would. So he quit, and he’s not the
first, nor will he be the last.
I’d like to offer a correction what Julian Bond said.
Its not that the NAACP doesn’t do social services; what Julian
Bond should have said was that The NAACP doesn’t do change. Of
course, there is no way to know that unless you’ve tried to change
the NAACP. Now Bruce Gordon knows.
Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing
director of the Urban
Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, Saving
The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is www.AnthonySamad.com. Click
here to contact Mr. Samad.