INDIANAPOLIS -- In his first address to the NAACP's annual convention as executive director, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. announced last night a $2 million endowment of the civil rights group from the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation.
Mr. Lewis, a Baltimore native, was the nation's richest black businessman until his death at age 50 in January. Dr. Chavis, Mr. Lewis' spiritual adviser during his battle with brain cancer, gave the eulogy at his funeral in West Baltimore.
In another announcement, Dr. Chavis said the NAACP's National Housing Corp. would unveil in a few weeks a joint venture to build 600 units of low-income housing in Baltimore. NAACP sources said the plan was to rehabilitate an existing development. Other details weren't immediately available.
Dr. Chavis said the Lewis gift would "ensure the financial stability of the NAACP well into the 21st Century." He announced a goal of a $100 million endowment for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which has headquarters in Baltimore.
He said Mr. Lewis pledged before he died to aid the NAACP "in a full revitalization effort" if Dr. Chavis was chosen executive director.
Mr. Lewis' daughter, Leslie, a junior at Harvard University, and his brother, Anthony Fugett, a Baltimore businessman, attended the speech at the Indiana Convention Center. Both are board members of the Lewis company, TLC Beatrice International LTC Holdings, Inc., a Europe an food conglomerate with 1992 sales of $1.6 billion.
The executive director, who was named in April to head the NAACP, had already been enjoying a honeymoon at the convention with the group's members. The endowment meant that he brought a dowry to the marriage as well.
Dr. Chavis, at 45 the youngest NAACP leader ever, was at his most animated and passionate during the 43-minute speech. The audience of 7,000 encouraged him with shouts of "Go ahead, preacher!"
"We're off to a great start. I feel good tonight," he said. "This time there's no fighting, no division, our ranks are together, we are moving forward, and we're making a difference from coast to coast."
He reiterated broad goals for the NAACP: a greater emphasis on economic equality for blacks; a revitalized effort to bring young members into a gray-haired organization, and an increased role in foreign affairs.
He portrayed the civil rights group as on a roll. He said at a press conference earlier in the day that the NAACP had hired staff just to keep up with new membership requests, which he said were pouring in at 10 times the rate of a year earlier.
Dr. William F. Gibson, NAACP board chairman, announced a "mammoth new membership campaign" to double the group's ranks to 1 million by its 85th anniversary in February 1994.
The controversy over the NAACP's appearing to endorse a new professional football franchise for Charlotte, N.C. -- and then backing away after bitter complaints from members in Baltimore and other cities competing with Charlotte for a franchise -- has drawn little attention at the convention.
George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the NAACP's Baltimore branch, said: "As far as we're concerned, that's a done deal now. We're trying to move forward."
Dr. Chavis said in his speech that the NAACP would pursue a "strategic alliance" with the Congressional Black Caucus, whose chairman, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat, will address the convention today.
The NAACP leader introduced Chief Quiet Hawk, whom he described as a "black Indian chief" whose Golden Hill tribe in Connecticut is pressing the federal government for recognition. He asked Mr. Mfume to aid that cause.
In response to reporters' questions earlier, Dr. Chavis denied that he was pushing the NAACP too far to the left. He defended his appointments of Lewis Myers, an activist Chicago attorney, as deputy executive director, and Don Rojas, a former aide to the leftist government of Maurice Bishop in the Caribbean island of Grenada, as director of communications.
He called the Bishop government "one of the most progressive governments there has ever been in the Western Hemisphere."
Dr. Chavis said "there is a right-wing reactionary element in our society that would try to thwart and divide persons of color. . . . When you see the right wing trying to disrupt your ranks, it only means you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. I'm not alarmed by it."
He said he didn't think the NAACP could be moving to the left, because corporate contributions to the group had increased since he took over.
Dr. Gibson, a Greenville, S.C., dentist who heads the NAACP's 64-member board, said that "the more aggressive civil rights units are, the more corporate support you get."