WASHINGTON -- In the first major meeting of black leaders since the Million Man March, the National African-American Leadership Summit -- chaired by the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. and spotlighting Louis Farrakhan -- convenes today to develop a strategic action plan."
In the wake of the march's success, mainstream leaders are flocking to the summit at Howard University. Hugh B. Price, president of the National Urban League; the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, chairman of the National Rainbow Coalition; the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and Earl T. Shinhoster, acting executive director of the NAACP, are scheduled to be at the event with Minister Farrakhan, head of the black separatist Nation of Islam.
Mr. Price, who didn't attend last month's huge Washington rally because of differences with Minister Farrakhan, is to give the keynote speech today.
The event is shaping up as a sweet personal triumph for Dr. Chavis. He was fired as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's executive director in August 1994 after he secretly authorized the payment of up to $332,400 in NAACP funds to settle a threatened sexual harassment suit.
He has convened five such summits. He held the first in Baltimore two months before he was fired by the NAACP and another the weekend after his dismissal. Two later summits in Chicago and Houston were largely ignored by mainstream black leaders.
Dr. Chavis said yesterday that all black leaders were welcome, even those who boycotted the Million Man March because they feared it would legitimize Minister Farrakhan, who has a history of anti-white and anti-Jewish rhetoric. The NAACP did not endorse the march, although many members attended.
"There is no litmus test for leadership in the black community other than one's commitment to the liberation of our people," Dr. Chavis said. "We are gaining momentum obviously, we are broadening our base obviously, but we have not gotten to the point where we're closing the door to anyone."
Dr. Chavis said the summit, which includes a televised "town hall meeting" tonight and concludes tomorrow, will set up an African-American development fund, unveil a health care plan and discuss holding a national black political convention in 1996.
"What happened Oct. 16 was unprecedented in American history, and what we will achieve in this summit will be unprecedented in American history," he said. "It's a new day in black America."
Minister Farrakhan, who made the call for the Million Man March, preached last night at Washington's Imani Temple. He urged black men to seek spiritual transformation and called the march a "miracle."