NAACP President Quits, Cites Conflicts

Darryl Fears, Washington Post, March 5, 2007

Bruce S. Gordon, the former telecom executive who was named NAACP president in a surprise choice less than two years ago, has resigned after a long-running disagreement with the group’s 64-member board over how to steward the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

Gordon’s confirmation yesterday in Los Angeles that he quit the NAACP’s leadership caught numerous members by surprise, including Lorraine Miller, president of the District’s chapter, and the Rev. Morris L. Shearin, the chapter’s vice president, who also is a member of the national board of directors.

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Dennis C. Hayes, who ran the Baltimore-based organization as interim president after Mfume resigned in December 2004, after nine years at the helm, will again assume that role as a search committee looks for a replacement. Gordon is expected to leave the job by month’s end.

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In choosing Gordon, the NAACP veered from its tradition of selecting ministers, politicians and civil rights figures. Gordon’s strong management skills and fundraising ability as a former Verizon Communications Inc. executive factored into why he was selected to run the 500,000-member NAACP. The organization struggled financially in the mid-1990s before Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers, took over as chairman and began to eliminate massive debt.

The group’s $27 million operating budget has been criticized as paltry, and the size of its membership has been the same since the 1940s.

During his tenure, Gordon closed the rift between the 98-year-old NAACP and the White House. In July, President Bush addressed the organization’s annual convention in Washington. With the speech, Bush avoided becoming the first president since Warren G. Harding not to address the most recognized black American rights group throughout his term.

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When Bruce S. Gordon was appointed president of the NAACP 19 months ago, some observers said it wasn’t a good fit. Now the civil rights organization must look for someone new to lead it in the wake of Gordon’s sudden resignation.

Dennis C. Hayes, the group’s general counsel, will serve as interim president. Hayes filled the same role after Kweisi Mfume resigned the presidency in 2004.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press from Los Angeles, Gordon cited as reasons for his stepping down his clashes with board members over management style and differing opinions over the organization’s mission.

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Julian Bond, chairman of the board of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Gordon tried to quit just six weeks after taking the job in August 2005, but Bond convinced him to stay.

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Gordon said that although the NAACP is an advocacy organization, his vision was to focus more on finding practical solutions to black America’s problems.

Gordon repeatedly made clear that he wanted the NAACP to do more social service work, said Rupert Richardson, a board member from Louisiana, but board members balked.

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Bond said, “Put simply, we fight racial discrimination and social service groups fight the effects of racial discrimination. Service is wonderful and praiseworthy and fabulous, but many, many organizations do it. Only a couple do justice work, and we’re one of those few.”

Bond has acknowledged that, with 64 members, the NAACP’s board of directors is large and sometimes unwieldy. But he often says this allows a wide range of members’ voices to be heard.

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Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor who has followed the NAACP closely for years, was surprised that Gordon is leaving, but said he had suspected that Gordon’s business background might make it tough to switch to civil rights work.

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Gordon’s departure throws the NAACP into disarray even as board members prepare for centennial celebrations in 2009 that include a $100 million fundraising goal.

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