Grass-roots message to NAACP: stop the bickering, move on issues
Keiwut Montgomery from Killeau, Texas, sums up the mood of most blacks at the current convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP):
''We in the small-town branches need more inspiration and guidance. Blacks have lost some of the gains made in the '60s, and we're barely holding our own. The NAACP has to take more action here or we may fall behind,'' says Ms. Montgomery, secretary of her local NAACP branch.
The call for a more forceful civil rights battle in the '84 election year is reflected in talk everywhere at the 74th NAACP convention. After a springtime of political infighting, peace has been restored at the top level of leadership.
Now the team of Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director, and Kelly M. Alexander Sr. of Charlotte, N.C., acting chairman, offers promise that a new era of activism is about to begin.
The issues will be the same - voting, economic progress, education, jobs, and housing. But the traditional NAACP legal approach to the civil rights struggle will be amended, say Messrs. Alexander and Hooks. Marches, confrontations, and selective buying will be the basic tools of the NAACP under the leadership of Hooks and Alexander. Such a thrust is welcomed at the local level.
Ms. Montgomery of Texas says she likes the ''new fire of Hooks and Alexander. Their leadership inspires me to return home and light our branch's fire.''
The Rev. Floyd Rose, president of the Toledo, Ohio, branch of the NAACP, agrees.
''National policies and national agreements aren't enough,'' he says. ''We must get back to basics at the branch level.''
He lists the basics as litigation in the courts, agitation in the streets, negotiations at the bargaining table, and ''confrontation in whatever form necessary.'' He adds, ''we shall always begin with a meditation in the church.''
Hooks and Alexander presented three priorities for 1984:
Voter registration. Register at least 1 million new voters across the nation, and battle President Reagan. ''We do not advocate a black candidate for president,'' Hooks says. ''The board adheres to tradition. The NAACP supports no political candidate for office. We cannot support a black fantasy of glory and symbolic candidacy. It's better for black people to vote for a candidate who can win and defeat Reaganism.''
Fair Share. This is an economic-development program calling for national corporations to include blacks in their board rooms and in executive positions, and to practice affirmative action among the ranks. It also seeks contracts between major corporations and black minority businesses. Branches are encouraged to do the same at local levels.
Education of blacks. The association has conducted a two-day conference on education involving black and white educators. It will present an education agenda to the convention for approval.
Alexander, a rough-talking, gruff warrior of 43 years of NAACP activity - most of it as president of the North Carolina NAACP, and the past eight years as national board vice-chairman - has established himself as a militant substitute for Margaret Bush Wilson, who was stripped of her powers as chairwoman after a power struggle with Hooks earlier this year.
Although Mrs. Wilson has no official power, her criticisms of the management of the national office are likely to be considered. She may yet press the fight for her ideas.
In his keynote address to the convention, Alexander praised Hooks as a leader , then declared a more militant program of activism for the NAACP. Delegates have already participated in two marches - one for voter registration and another for youth education and employment.
A more sophisticated militancy for the association, ''Black Dollar Day,'' began Wednesday. Delegates exchanged their currency for ''nuisance money,'' two-dollar bills and Susan B. Anthony dollars, to spend in New Orleans until the convention winds up Friday night. This demonstration marks the coming revival of a campaign that was popular decades ago: ''Don't spend your money where you can't work.''
Hooks and Alexander promise to tackle such issues as increasing NAACP membership (which fell to a low of 347,000 last year), improving the group's management, and developing a sound fiscal operation. Mrs. Wilson, a soft-spoken member of several corporate boards, has said that more funds would be available to the NAACP from corporate coffers if the civil rights organization were better managed financially and operationally.
Local leaders promise their own action. The Rev. Mr. Rose became president of the Toledo branch last year after leading 250 people in a demonstration to the mayor's office. ''The mayor told us the NAACP speaks for the black people of Toledo,'' he says. ''So I ran for NAACP president and won.''
The branch's next target will be movie theaters, says Rose. ''We won't patronize a theater that doesn't hire blacks even when it shows a picture starring blacks.''
He notes that a department store that first decided not to deal with the NAACP has changed its course. After several months of selective buying by blacks , the store now includes 28 percent blacks among new hirees, and is employing or training minorities for upper-level jobs, he says.
The Toledo branch motto is, ''We'll add cents to our dollars by teaching our dollars some sense.''
Alexander captured the spirit he advocates when he spoke to the convention:
''This is not a battle but a crusade. My home has been bombed and I have been threatened. This crusade is not for the faint-hearted, for the easily wearied. It's for those who will 'never turn back no more.' ''