A boisterous group of 60 people, marching and waving picket signs, voiced its opposition yesterday to the NAACP for inviting Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to its summit of African-American community leaders.
Spurred on by Jewish activists and a former NAACP assistant director, the crowd chanted slogans, including "Don't embrace the racist; Farrakhan is a racist," outside the headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"You should not legitimate Jewish racists and you should not legitimate black racists," Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish magazine, told the group. "I believe [Minister Farrakhan] is undermining the legitimacy of the NAACP."
With four other supporters, Mr. Lerner began the protest about a half-hour before the summit's 2 p.m. scheduled start. The number of protesters grew to about 40 within 15 minutes.
In the hot and humid air, protesters picked up signs reading, "Yes! to black liberation No! to black anti-Semitism," "Jews and blacks together" and "Shame on the NAACP for embracing a racist."
"Don't you feel a little awkward telling black people what they should have on their agenda?" Vernon Jarrett, an NAACP volunteer in charge of its youth program, Academic Olympics, asked Mr. Lerner.
A few protesters marched in support of Minister Farrakhan's presence at the summit. Five members of the Alliance for Judaism and Social Justice held up signs reading, "Talk to Farrakhan but reject his bigotry."
"We're not in total agreement with Mr. Lerner," said Mark Rosing, a coordinator of the Alliance for Judaism organization. "We feel that the only way to reach Farrakhan and his followers is through discussion."
The majority of the protesters, however, showed support for Mr. Lerner, including former NAACP assistant director Michael Meyers, now the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. Mr. Meyers, who was an assistant director from 1975 to 1984, walked arm-in-arm with Mr. Lerner and Rabbi Avi Weiss, national president for the Coalition for Jewish Concerns.
"The NAACP is an organization that is supposed to be open to all people," Mr. Meyers said. "It is tearing up its charter to invite Louis Farrakhan. He is not a legitimate voice. His is extremist, radical."
At an evening rally, Rabbi Weiss urged a crowd of 500 people to join a march today from the Thurgood Marshall Memorial in downtown Baltimore to the World Trade Center at the Inner Harbor.
"The more one speaks out, the more one is protected," he said. "The Jewish community will never be guilty of being silent again."
The crowd moved into the street and marched. But police officers drove them back onto sidewalks.
And as many as 20 police officers held the protesters at bay, preventing them from taking the street and walking to the NAACP building where the summit was held.
"The NAACP has lost its moral compass," Rabbi Weiss said. "The time has come not to make alliances with bigots but to disassociate with them."