Cocoa Beach, Florida. -- My fervent hope during half a year of painful scandal has been that the day would soon come when I could say to all Americans, "The leadership problem is solved. The time has come when you can, you must, again give money and other support to the NAACP."
I could not say that as long as I knew, and was writing, that your and my dollars would likely vanish in a sieve of corruption and waste and sexual-harassment settlements. Now the hallelujah day has come when I and a chorus of my friends can sing, with dollar signs as notes, "Honest days are here again!"
Just days after Myrlie Evers-Williams was elected chairwoman of this venerable but troubled civil-rights organization, the Gannett Foundation decided to give the NAACP $100,000. (I am a director of the Gannett Co., but make no foundation decisions.) Then the 14 trustees of The Freedom Forum just voted to grant $100,000 to the NAACP's Special Contributions Fund as a tribute to Mrs. Evers-Williams. After that they voted that in other Freedom Forum grants and personal pledges another $300,000 would be given to assist the NAACP in programs to combat teen-age pregnancy, the problem of high school dropouts, and other programs to help black families. (I am a trustee of the Freedom Forum).
In just four days, the leaders of two of America's great institutions have committed half a million dollars toward helping our once-greatest civil-rights force to regain its vitality.
Three days after Mrs. Evers-Williams' election, the Miami Herald commented editorially on why this entire country badly needs the voice and conscience of a credible NAACP:
"Many court cases that the NAACP has won on behalf of African-Americans have set down laws used by a broad spectrum of people. White Americans, for instance, have made increasing use of such laws in pursuing age-discrimination suits against employers. Women's groups and gay organizations, and those serving the disabled, have taken many pointers from the NAACP playbook."
An audit report is coming that will surely produce more stories of past financial abuse. But Mrs. Evers-Williams' first action was to install Francisco Borges, former treasurer of the state of Connecticut, as NAACP treasurer. He has inactivated the credit cards that were abused so outrageously. He has authorized Coopers & Lybrand to expand its audit into the Image Awards TV production, the operations of The Crisis magazine and every other place where NAACP money was being spent. Nobody can now commit NAACP money without Mr. Borges' approval. An outside auditor will be superimposed upon the present financial system until a modern, fraud-resistant system can be installed.
The Herald said: "Clear vision and strong direction, coupled with Ms. Evers-Williams hands-on guidance, can assure that the NAACP gains its vitality."
We at the Gannett Foundation and The Freedom Forum are saying the same words of hope, backed with our money. I appeal to the other foundations and corporations of America to match or exceed our example.
Two Freedom Forum trustees, author Betty Bao Lord and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, said as if in a single utterance: "Our gifts could help to heal a nation."
They can! Add yours, and I know they can!
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.