Mfume gets the boot

Posted: Dec 07, 2004 12:00 AM

Don't believe the well-scripted press conference where former president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Kweisi Mfume, announced his resignation. Mfume did not resign from the nation's oldest and most prestigious civil rights organization. He was kicked out; following a long-simmering feuded with Julian Bond, NAACP chairman.

The two began feuding after Mfume nominated National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for his 2003 NAACP Image Award. Furious that Mfume was reaching out to the Bush administration, Bond responded by nominating "Boondocks" cartoonist Aaron McGruder for his Image Award. McGruder had ridiculed Rice in his comic strip and later caller her a "murderer" for her role in the war in Iraq.

The rift grew as Mfume continued to reach out to the Republican Party. Mfume realized that by reflexively voting Democrat in every election, black voters had given away most of their bartering power. After all, what incentive is there for either party to go out on a limb for blacks, if it is taken for granted that blacks would automatically vote Democrat? In effect, black voters have created conditions that make it very easy for both parties to take them for granted.

Mfume rightly reasoned that by reaching out to Republicans on issues like empowering faith-based charities, supporting school vouchers, etc., black voters can send the message that they're no longer willing to blindly support the Democrats. Faced with the prospect of fleeing voters, the Democrats would be forced to make new overtures. This competition, in turn, would instill both parties with a sense of urgency for addressing those issues that black Americans routinely rate as their chief concerns. This competitive pressure would provide black voters with increased political options. Somehow this point was lost on Bond, who dug in his heels with mind-numbing intransigence. Over the next year and a half, the rift became too big to repair.

Ironically, it was Bond who handpicked Mfume to lead the organization in 1995. At the time, the NAACP was foundering amidst charges of sexual harassment and economic improprieties. "We were four and a half million dollars in debt. We had scandal in the organization. Our very existence was threatened," recalls NAACP chairman, Julian Bond. "Kweisi Mfume was the last person we interviewed," continued Bond. "When he walked in the room, you could just see people thinking, we've got our man."

Mfume promptly set about cutting the organization's employee base, raising money and organizing political coalitions. Within five years, the debt was gone and the NAACP was widely regarded as the most powerful political pressure group in the country. They alone had the ability to galvanize 50 million black votes. Members of the press found it all dazzling. "Mfume not only has righted the ship, he also has set it on a new course," fawned USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickam.

Bond and Mfume essentially partnered with the Democratic Party to revitalize the organization. Not surprisingly, the rhetoric coming out of the NAACP became increasingly partisan. During a speech before 2,000 attendees at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Julian Bond proclaimed that President George W. Bush has "selected (political) nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection." During a 2003 appearance at the National Press Club, Bond referred to the Republican Party as "a crazed swarm of right-wing locusts" that have sought to "subvert, ignore, defy and destroy the laws that require an America which is bias-free." Later that night Bond dubbed the Republicans, "the white people's party."

Following the event, Mfume confronted Bond with his fear that the organization had become too outwardly political. Soon thereafter, the IRS launched an investigation into whether Bond's remarks violated the organization's tax exempt status.

The final tear came after the election. Mfume suggested sending a letter to President Bush, mapping out ways that they could work together to help the community. Bond rejected the idea. Mfume sent the letter anyway. To Bond this was unforgivable. A few weeks later, Bond had Mfume voted out. The message was clear: There is no room within the NAACP for intellectual diversity. Just loyal servitude to the Democratic Party.

This is a crime. This is a shame. This is the sad state of the nation's most storied civil rights organization.

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