Time for revival
the civil rights era, the major black leadership organizations were all
working toward the same goal — to end racial discrimination and its
effects in this country. Such focus is missing now.
Back then, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) worked to generate political momentum for change. Its
offshoot, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, focused on taking action in the
courts. The National Urban League was involved with employment issues.
The Nation of Islam was, and continues to be, concerned with the
psychological scars from which blacks suffer because of the history of
The combined efforts produced beneficial results. In 1964, President
Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 he signed
the Voting Rights Act, which unleashed a torrent of black political
activity in the South. It must be noted that in addition to black
organizations, a number of individual leaders, such as Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr., were responsible for the laws that changed the racial
climate in the nation.
Unfortunately, in the years since the passage of the civil rights laws,
there has been considerable confusion as to how to proceed. One problem
is that African Americans have been overly concerned about how whites
thought of them. As a consequence, blacks reacted negatively to the
1965 publication of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,”
more commonly known as the Moynihan Report after its author, U.S. Sen.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Many prominent blacks took the position that
it was insulting and demeaning to publish the fact that almost
one-fourth of black children were born out of wedlock. Such data would
be good news today, but 1965 was a more morally reserved time.
Nonetheless, the objective of the report, as its title suggests, was to
impose on American society the responsibility for allowing the
development of conditions that caused the breakdown of the black
family. President Johnson planned to propose to Congress a number of
plans that would strengthen the ability of black families to thrive.
With so much black opposition to the report, however, it became
politically hazardous to support any implementation of its proposals.
After 1965 the major battle against racial discrimination was won, but
of course bigotry did not suddenly disappear. It just became more
subtle, because bigots knew that they would have to answer in court or
in the corporate boardroom for their offenses. As opportunity
blossomed, it became the responsibility of African Americans to rise to
the challenge. In order to remain relevant, the NAACP and the Urban
League would have to revise their agendas.
Bruce S. Gordon, a former Verizon executive, became president of the
NAACP in June 2005 to lead such a revision. But he resigned in March
2007, after only 19 months in office, because he was unable to expand
the organization’s agenda to include social service as well as advocacy.
“Our mission is to fight racial discrimination and provide social
justice,” said NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, who opposed Gordon’s
agenda. “Social service organizations deal with the effects of racial
discrimination. We deal with the beast itself.”
While the beast is admittedly not yet extinct, there is little interest
in black America in spending much effort on hunting its remaining
vestiges. As a result, an organization with an historic brand is losing
an opportunity to inspire black achievement. The Urban League should
also be in the lead to assess public policies that influence the
economic welfare of African Americans.
African Americans could benefit enormously from an effective NAACP and
a dynamic Urban League with clearly defined goals and objectives.
Neither organization has responded adequately to the new circumstances
confronting blacks in a nation where racial discrimination is moribund.
The whole nation would benefit from a new dynamic leadership.
“Talk about a slippery slope.”