The Rev. Emmett C. Burns, the longtime civil rights activist from Baltimore County, launched a campaign yesterday that he hopes will sweep him past his better-known rivals and into office as the next executive director of the NAACP.
Mr. Burns announced his "candidacy" to replace the retiring Benjamin L. Hooks after a breakfast with about 30 supporters at the Holiday Inn in Woodlawn.
"I am qualified for this post," Mr. Burns declared. "I am the best qualified."
Mr. Hooks has said he will retire in April from the top post at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.
His successor will be chosen by a search committee that should be in place in the next 10 days, said Dr. William F. Gibson, a South Carolina dentist who chairs the NAACP's national board.
"I assume we will open up [the search process] to anyone who wants to apply," Dr. Gibson said yesterday. Once candidates are identified, he said, the new executive director will be chosen by a vote of the board.
After Mr. Hooks announced last winter that he planned to retire, several nationally known names surfaced as possible successors.
They included Ernest G. Green, an investment banker and former assistant labor secretary; Maynard Jackson, the mayor of Atlanta; and Andrew Young, the former congressman and ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr. Burns, who is pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, said he is not intimidated by the level of competition. "I am the Ross Perot of this campaign, without the billions of dollars," he said. "I hope to gather grass-roots support for my campaign."
The idea of a public campaign for a post that will be filled by the NAACP board seemed to puzzle several longtime observers of the organization.
"This is really unusual," said one, who asked not to be identified.
But Mr. Burns said he believes he could bring new life to the civil rights group, which some critics say is out of touch with many blacks.
He pledged to rekindle the spirit of activism on which the group was founded.
"Support for the NAACP is out there in the land," Mr. Burns said. "But people will not support a weak NAACP."
Mr. Burns, 51, said he has been active with the NAACP since he was a teen-ager. He was state director in his native Mississippi, a regional director in Maryland, and then national director for life memberships. He left the latter post last year.