INDIANAPOLIS -- U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the NAACP convention yesterday that civil rights activists "must focus anew on corporate America" in trying to achieve economic equality for black Americans.
"Jobs are important to our people . . . but jobs alone are not enough. Full development is our goal," said the 44-year-old Baltimore Democrat, who won a standing ovation in his first address to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He said black Americans must own businesses, not just work for them.
Mr. Mfume shared the stage with Vice President Al Gore, who pledged the Clinton administration's "unshakable commitment to [the NAACP's] cause."
The Baltimore congressman said that today he would join the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson in picketing the baseball All-Star Game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to demand a greater role for blacks in the business of professional baseball.
"The effort is not to embarrass the Orioles, the city, the mayor or the people of Baltimore, but to embarrass Major League Baseball to do what it has failed to do 46 years after Jackie Robinson," Mr. Mfume said. He said blacks hold only 8 percent of front-office jobs.
The congressman called the emphasis on black economic development "a logical extension of the civil rights struggle" -- echoing the theme sounded repeatedly at the convention by the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the NAACP's new executive director.
The NAACP recently signed a $1 billion "fair-share" agreement to increase black participation in Flagstar Cos. Inc., the parent corporation of Denny's restaurants, and Richardson Sports, which seeks to bring professional football to Charlotte, N.C. Dr. Chavis' endorsement of the Charlotte bid -- retracted a week later -- caused an uproar in Baltimore and other cities vying with Charlotte for a team.
Mr. Mfume said Dr. Chavis' apology for upsetting Baltimoreans ended the controversy, and he added: "The community at large JTC is prepared to move beyond this matter and enter a working relationship with the NAACP."
In an apparent end to another dispute, the congressman said the Congressional Black Caucus would meet later this month with President Clinton -- the first such meeting since the lawmakers snubbed a White House invitation after Mr. Clinton dropped Lani Guinier, a black law professor, as his nominee to be the government's top civil rights official.
Mr. Mfume said the caucus was counting on White House support in the coming negotiations between Senate and House conferees to reach a federal budget agreement.
At stake are jobs and income programs that the caucus favors.
Mr. Mfume called the negotiations "clearly the most crucial test" for congressional Democrats in some time, and he expressed optimism that they would forge an agreement.
"If this package fails it could very well become the beginning of the end for the Democratic Party to govern over the next couple of years," he said.
"We're going to have to find a way -- all of us -- to take one step backward from what we want to take two steps forwards to what we need."
While Mr. Mfume was espousing moderation, the NAACP disputed reports that the civil rights group was moving to the left.
Lewis Myers, the deputy executive director named this spring by Dr. Chavis, defended his record as a Chicago lawyer who defended clients such as black separatist Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
Mr. Myers confirmed in an interview that he had traveled to Libya in 1985 in connection with a $5 million loan that the radical Arab regime there made to the black Muslim group.
He said he was one of at least four lawyers who handled the Nation of Islam's affairs.
"People have a right to representation, to have a good lawyer, and I am not in any way ashamed of my representation. I don't apologize for representing the Nation of Islam or Jesse Jackson," he said, noting that he was once general counsel for the civil rights activist's Operation PUSH in Chicago.
He said he represented the Nation of Islam, whose leader routinely makes anti-Semitic remarks in his public appearances, off and on between 1981 and 1989.
He said he belongs to the United Church of Christ and is not a member of the Nation of Islam.
"Many of my white colleagues represent controversial clients, and nobody even raises this kind of thing. I think that it's racism," said Mr. Myers, 46, who was a Chicago law professor who taught Chicago police officers and Illinois prison guards before joining the NAACP.
"There will be no repudiations, no disassociations. I stand on my life's record," he said.