Washington. -- The NAACP's national convention in Minneapolis occurs amid the greatest civil-rights crisis for black Americans and other minorities in a century. Not since the Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson decisions have black Americans been so naked before the law.
For most of this century, somewhere within the three branches of the federal government were wise and powerful white men and women who espoused the goal of racial equality. Today, a Congress led by Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole is almost criminally hostile to the aspirations of minorities, especially black people. The Supreme Court, emboldened by a black justice, Clarence Thomas, has become the killer of black dreams. The White House is occupied by an insecure, double-talk Democratic president who is a light-year away from the concepts of equal opportunity that were embraced by Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
Facing this grim challenge, it becomes obvious that if the NAACP is to have a chance to deal with the emergency challenges of job opportunities, education, black access to the voting booths and to seats in Congress, enhancing the health care of poor blacks, preserving a "social safety net" for the neediest Americans, then the civil-rights organization must end internal bickering.
But what threatens to dominate this convention? A spurious claim by former chairman William F. Gibson that he can't explain to Coopers & Lybrand auditors what he did with more than half a million dollars of NAACP money because someone "stole" NAACP records.
I have reams of records suggesting Dr. Gibson's misuse of NAACP funds, and not one page was stolen. My sources inside NAACP Baltimore headquarters tell me that the only missing records there are some that clearly incriminated Dr. Gibson. His long-time protectors say those documents "were destroyed in a flood" or just "vanished."
Delegates to this critical convention must be made aware that just as Dr. Gibson refuses to cooperate with auditors that he requested regarding his national expenditures, he has stalled and evaded court-ordered depositions of himself and NAACP local official David A. Fashion regarding his questionable use of the funds of the South Carolina Conference of Branches of the NAACP.
While national chairman, Dr. Gibson retained control of the South Carolina Conference and national NAACP checks were sent to the Conference payable to him.
The delegates in Minneapolis must move decisively to get Dr. Gibson and his cronies off the back of the NAACP. They must determine swiftly what has been misjudgment and ineptitude and what was criminal corruption. They must let prosecutors deal with the worst problems while they go about dealing with the economic, social and other problems that beset America.
Many of us have taken steps to restore the financial good health of the NAACP. But this will mean nothing if this NAACP convention refuses to wipe away the old, incompetent, self-indulging order and give the new leaders an unobstructed chance.
The NAACP can make America a new place of security and hope for the weakest and the hopeless of all races and origins. But only if the delegates of 1995 are brave enough to purge the poisons of the immediate past so as to give strength and encouragement to new NAACP leaders.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.