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Title: 970811-59--NAACP Reaffirms Policy On Desegregation
NAACP Reaffirms Policy On Desegregation
By Maurice Williams, The Militant, Vol.61 no.27, 11 August 1997
PITTSBURGH - Nearly 4,000 registered delegates and observers attended the 88th annual NAACP convention here. Speaking to the gathering, President Kweisi Mfume declared, "Economic empowerment is the logical extension of the civil rights movement" and urged the organization to renew its focus on "corporate America" and "some friends in the corporate community." At the same time he called on the membership to join protest actions. There were hundreds of youth among those attending the gathering.
Before the July 12-17 convention began, the big-business media forecasted a debate among the NAACP members that reflected a discussion over whether to shift the organization's stance on busing to achieve school desegregation. "At its national convention next month in Pittsburgh," stated a June 23 article in the New York Times, "the NAACP is expected to have a formal debate on its school- desegregation policy for the first time in more than a decade."
There was no major debate, however. NAACP national board chairperson Myrlie Evers-Williams opened the convention by reaffirming the organization's stance on desegregation, calling on the membership to fight the "rats" who would suggest we "return to the segregated and unequal educational system that the NAACP fought to eradicate."
Her comments appeared directed at layers in the organization like former Bergen County branch president Robert Robinson and former Yonkers branch president Kenneth Jenkins, both of whom were ousted for opposing the national policy. Mfume reiterated the policy but stated that "busing is not the end-all and be-all to create an integrated educational experience for young people."
The convention registered efforts to reknit ties to traditional civil rights organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The convention also passed a resolution backing the struggle of the United Farm Workers union in its campaign to organize the strawberry workers in California and urged the membership to join in actions to support this fight. The organization announced the relaunching of its national magazine, dubbed The New Crisis.
Mfume, a five-term U.S. congressman and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was named as NAACP president in 1995 - a move that helped the organization reestablish links with big business politicians. A host of liberal capitalist politicians including Pittsburgh mayor Thomas Murphy, Pennsylvania governor Thomas Ridge, and U.S. president William Clinton spoke at the event.
Improving educational opportunities and defending past gains of the fight for Black rights were major themes discussed by participants throughout the convention. A sharp debate broke out in the workshop on the pros and cons of school voucher programs, charter schools, and school take- overs. One of the panelists at the workshop, which nearly 500 people attended, was A. Polly Williams, a Democratic state representative in Milwaukee. She voiced staunch support for vouchers, which provide families with government funds to attend private schools.
"We are the only state where the voucher program was drafted by Black people for Black children," said Williams. Her comments were rebuked by Walter Farrell, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, who asserted that Williams's remarks "shows how the conservative right plays us against one another... It's not about education, it's about putting public money into private hands," he added.
Two of the panelists were members of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. They indicated that the two teachers unions backed charter schools if certain conditions were met. Delegates at the convention debated a resolution rejecting voucher programs, charter schools, and school take-overs, which was eventually amended to delete any reference to charter schools from the measure.
March against police violence
Some 1,000 conventioneers participated in a July 15 march and rally against cop brutality in downtown Pittsburgh that was preceded by a youth workshop on police violence in the African American community. Leaders of the NAACP originally characterized the demonstration as a part of its "stop the violence: start the love" campaign, but its main focus became a protest against the cop killing of Jonny Gammage, who was slain in 1995 by Pittsburgh-area police.
"We're trying to show the people of Pittsburgh they have the NAACP's support in getting justice done," said 16-year- old Nicole Dyer of Freemont, California. "People are getting tired of seeing what's going on," said Terance Williams, a 17-old-year student from Thibodeaux, Louisiana.
"The NAACP can no longer be ridiculed as an organization that doesn't go to the streets and doesn't reach out to young people," NAACP national youth director Jamal Bryant told the crowd.
Later in the week, convention delegates approved a resolution without debate demanding "that the federal government prosecute all five officers in the criminal violation of Jonny Gammage's civil rights."
Lukewarm applause for Clinton
Clinton received a tepid reception from the audience as he began his speech July 17, the last day of convention.
He did not comment on affirmative action but proposed hiring 350,000 teachers for "high-poverty urban and rural schools" over the next five years. He voiced approval of charter schools stating, "Our budget has enough funds to create 3,000 of these schools by the year 2001."
Clinton had recently returned from Europe, where he supervised the invitations to expand the NATO military alliance. Clinton did not comment on his NATO meeting during his speech to convention delegates.
Many participants at the convention expressed skepticism toward Clinton. "I didn't vote for him," said Eugene Miller, 22-year-old Black student at Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio. "I would never join the military," he added, referring to Washington's war preparations. "I learned internationalism from reading Malcolm X."
The day before Clinton's arrival, some 400 people attended the NAACP's annual Armed Services and Veteran Affairs Dinner, which included Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Equal Opportunity William Leftwich and Secretary of Transportation Ronald Slater. Both members of the Clinton administration are Black. The program included a video, "Valor of Legacy," that highlighted the achievements of the Black Tuskeegee Airmen who fought against racism in the U.S. military during the imperialist slaughter of World War II.
Secretary of U.S. Air Force Sheila Widnall was the keynote speaker. She applauded Washington's occupation force in Yugoslavia saying, "Our mission in Bosnia is a success." She said the military was one of the "nation's most racially diverse employers." Widnall added, "We need a multiracial force of unequaled skill. We may look different but we are all on the same all-star team." Neither Widnall nor the other military brass attending the banquet mentioned the current sex scandal and racist charges wracking the U.S. military.
A workshop on racist discrimination and the military justice system on the final day of the convention featured a presentation by U.S. Air Force Col. Jack Rives, who asserted that the military justice system was superior to any civilian court proceeding. William Leftwich, deputy assistant secretary of defense, called the military the most "outstanding example of affirmative action."
Later in the workshop, however, Sgt. Tony Cross, who is facing a court martial from the sexual misconduct scandal at Aberdeen, denounced the military as a racist institution. "There is a double standard. There is discrimination in the Army," said Cross. He accused the Army's Criminal Investigation Division of fabricating evidence against him. The audience of 200 gave Cross a standing ovation after he turned over documents to the NAACP, including a letter from a white woman who said she had been coerced by investigators into making false charges against him. The NAACP has raised $21,000 to help him pay legal expenses.
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