May 1, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 38
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Melvin B. Miller
Editor & Publisher

Time for revival

During the civil rights era, the major black leadership organizations were all working toward the same goal — to end racial discrimination and its effects in this country. Such focus is missing now.

Back then, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked to generate political momentum for change. Its offshoot, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, focused on taking action in the courts. The National Urban League was involved with employment issues. The Nation of Islam was, and continues to be, concerned with the psychological scars from which blacks suffer because of the history of slavery.

The combined efforts produced beneficial results. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 he signed the Voting Rights Act, which unleashed a torrent of black political activity in the South. It must be noted that in addition to black organizations, a number of individual leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were responsible for the laws that changed the racial climate in the nation.

Unfortunately, in the years since the passage of the civil rights laws, there has been considerable confusion as to how to proceed. One problem is that African Americans have been overly concerned about how whites thought of them. As a consequence, blacks reacted negatively to the 1965 publication of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” more commonly known as the Moynihan Report after its author, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Many prominent blacks took the position that it was insulting and demeaning to publish the fact that almost one-fourth of black children were born out of wedlock. Such data would be good news today, but 1965 was a more morally reserved time.

Nonetheless, the objective of the report, as its title suggests, was to impose on American society the responsibility for allowing the development of conditions that caused the breakdown of the black family. President Johnson planned to propose to Congress a number of plans that would strengthen the ability of black families to thrive. With so much black opposition to the report, however, it became politically hazardous to support any implementation of its proposals.

After 1965 the major battle against racial discrimination was won, but of course bigotry did not suddenly disappear. It just became more subtle, because bigots knew that they would have to answer in court or in the corporate boardroom for their offenses. As opportunity blossomed, it became the responsibility of African Americans to rise to the challenge. In order to remain relevant, the NAACP and the Urban League would have to revise their agendas.

Bruce S. Gordon, a former Verizon executive, became president of the NAACP in June 2005 to lead such a revision. But he resigned in March 2007, after only 19 months in office, because he was unable to expand the organization’s agenda to include social service as well as advocacy.

“Our mission is to fight racial discrimination and provide social justice,” said NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, who opposed Gordon’s agenda. “Social service organizations deal with the effects of racial discrimination. We deal with the beast itself.”

While the beast is admittedly not yet extinct, there is little interest in black America in spending much effort on hunting its remaining vestiges. As a result, an organization with an historic brand is losing an opportunity to inspire black achievement. The Urban League should also be in the lead to assess public policies that influence the economic welfare of African Americans.

African Americans could benefit enormously from an effective NAACP and a dynamic Urban League with clearly defined goals and objectives. Neither organization has responded adequately to the new circumstances confronting blacks in a nation where racial discrimination is moribund. The whole nation would benefit from a new dynamic leadership.



“Talk about a slippery slope.”

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