Within the NAACP's 64-member national board of directors, people held widely different opinions on the type of leader who would be effective.

NAACP national board member Cora Breckenridge of Indiana would like the president to be someone in the old-school mold of NAACP chief of operations, the Rev. Nelson Rivers III. Perhaps Rivers himself.

Rivers is as fiery and outspoken as Bond. And like Bond's, some of Rivers' speeches this year were partisan and sharply critical of Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Rivers encouraged NAACP volunteers and members to defeat Bush's re-election bid and register black voters, "like the bill collector coming for his money."

A similarly rousing speech by Bond at the NAACP's annual convention in Philadelphia this summer provoked the Internal Revenue Service to review the organization's tax-exempt status as a nonpartisan organization. In August, Rivers received the organization's Medgar Evers Award of Excellence.

"Rev. Nelson Rivers is the kind of person that I, as a national board member, would look to," Breckenridge said. The NAACP president "needs to be someone who is in touch with the grassroots of this great organization."

Issues 'more subtle'

Breckenridge, 67, has been a volunteer with the NAACP since 1955. A year earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education decision, and activists were heady from that victory.

"The issues are more subtle now, and one has to understand what they are," said national board member Charles White of Kentucky, who started at the NAACP in the turbulent 1960s, when Mississippi field director Medgar Evers was killed by a sniper. "It requires education, and it requires an understanding of the issues."

It also requires a high-profile and outspoken president, a lightning rod for donations. Mfume's charisma opened a revenue stream at a time when the NAACP was $3.2 million in debt. Less than a year after Mfume's appointment in 1996, the NAACP had erased the debt.

Whoever becomes the next NAACP president should stay longer than a few years, said some.

"In the past, it was looked at as a lifetime job; once you started a commitment to civil rights and social justice, you stayed," said Ronald Walters, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he directs the African American Leadership Institute. "You almost need to have someone who is going to say, 'I am going to have a stake in this. My career is behind me, and I'm going to invest myself in this.'"