Washington. -- Facing mounting pressure to resign, NAACP Chairman William F. Gibson has begun a desperate effort to purge his critics from the NAACP board of directors.
In a conference telephone call last weekend with his cronies, Dr. Gibson proposed a plan to oust some 16 of his critics from the 64-member board. He wants to charge them with conduct "inimical to the best interests of the organization." That is, he hopes to oust them for allegedly telling the media about the lavish and possibly illegal use of the meager NAACP funds by himself, fired executive director Benjamin Chavis and members of "The Tribe" (the 24 or so board members who protect Dr. Gibson.)
This "urgent" board purge was proposed by Dr. Gibson after attorney Hemphill P. Pride II, former president of the Columbia, S.C., chapter, wrote him October 18 complaining of Dr. Gibson's insistence on remaining president of the South Carolina State Conference of Branches even while he wielded power as chairman of the NAACP national board.
This has meant that the national NAACP dominated by Dr. Gibson has sent many thousands of dollars to the South Carolina State Conference, which was tantamount to Dr. Gibson sending precious NAACP funds from the unaccountable Dr. Gibson in Baltimore to the unaccountable Dr. Gibson in the South Carolina.
I have copies of $36,000 in national NAACP checks made payable to Dr. Gibson personally that ostensibly were for "the South Carolina State Conference." And thousands of dollars of other checks made payable directly to the conference, which is controlled tightly by Dr. Gibson.
In letters to Dr. Gibson October 18, and to state NAACP treasurer David A. Fashion November 3, Mr. Pride demanded an audit of South Carolina State Conference funds, copies of all checks made payable to Dr. Gibson, and copies of documentation to justify such checks and other charges to the South Carolina chapter.
"Gibson hasn't pulled a tooth in 10 years," Mr. Pride said to me of the Greenville, S.C., dentist. "All evidence is that Gibson has been living very comfortably on NAACP funds."
Dr. Gibson wrote Mr. Pride October 26 that he wanted a face-to-face meeting to "amicably resolve the concerns you may have." Mr. Pride wrote back this week that such a meeting could take place only after "voluntarily or by court order" the treasurer, Fashion, gives him the financial documents requested.
Dr. Gibson's associates tell me that he was further distressed by an editorial in the Monday edition of The State, the prestigious newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, urging that he resign before the NAACP's annual elections next February.
"If he doesn't, the board should vote to replace him, whether an internal audit of his expenses is done by then or not," the editorial said.
A similar revolt is brewing in Florida. Charlie Frank Matthews of Ft. Pierce tells me he will demand an audit of the NAACP credit-card charges and other expenditures of state chairman T.H. Poole, also a local chairman and a national board member loathed as Dr. Gibson's chief crony and the "enforcer" of Dr. Gibson's purges.
For more than two years, Mr. Matthews and Daytona Beach publisher Charles Cherry have been charging in leaflets and other ways that Messrs. Gibson and Poole are destroying the NAACP. The New York and New Jersey state conferences have also called for Dr. Gibson's removal.
An attempt to purge the board under Article 7 of the NAACP constitution "will undo Gibson and save the NAACP," a senior board member says: "Gibson cannot get a two-thirds vote, and he will alienate many of the 24 board members in 'the tribe' who have protected him up till now."
An "external, independent audit" of NAACP outlays was ordered by the board of directors at an emergency meeting last month. But no auditors have been named. And Dr. Gibson moved over last weekend to replace two members of the special audit committee, Hazel Dukes and Leonard Springs, with Leon Russell of Florida and Larry Carter of Iowa, two of his most ardent protectors.
The national NAACP lies at death's door, starved of cash and with most of its employees furloughed. If Dr. Gibson pursues his reckless, desperate scheme to purge the board in a futile effort to save himself, he will crash into ignominy and take a great, vital civil-rights organization with him.
I hope he will read the editorials urging him to resign and I hope he listens to the cries of "shame" rising up in South Carolina, Florida and across the land. And I still hope that he will step down so as to give the NAACP a fighting chance to survive.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.