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NAACP, Legal Defense Fund battle over initials

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is demanding exclusive right to the initials NAACP.

Money may be the underlying reason for a pending legal showdown between the association and its 1939 offspring, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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The NAACP - with a $7 million budget, 450,000 members, and 1,802 branches - claims the names are confusing and that some donors may feel they are giving to the NAACP when they contribute to the Legal Defense Fund. The association argues both groups would be strengthened if they joined forces.

On the other hand, the Legal Defense Fund - with a $6 million budget, no mass membership, and offices around the nation - says both organizations are needed in the movement. It has lived with the initials for 43 years, the group says, and there is no reason to change now.

Many NAACP and Legal Defense Fund supporters are concerned that if a settlement can't be reached out of court, any decision could weaken the losing group and the vital contribution it makes to the civil rights movement.

The nation's largest civil rights group filed suit May 25, asking the Legal Defense Fund to drop ''NAACP'' from its name.

''We see no reason for changing our name, nor do we see any meaningful purpose in rejoining the NAACP,'' says Jack Greenberg, general counsel and head of the fund. ''Our organization provides a unique service to the civil rights movement. We provide a deep resource of civil rights lawyers.''

Two well-known black lawyers head the legal teams representing the two organizations: Edward W. Brooke, former US senator from Massachusetts, for the NAACP, and Vernon E. Jordan Jr., former president of the National Urban League, for the Legal Defense Fund.

These two were selected, it is said, because they would be the two lawyers most likely to draft an agreement acceptable to both parties.

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