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Commentary: Protecting the reputation of an esteemed organization

Melvin B. Miller

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Donald Sterling fiasco is that the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP was scheduled to bestow upon the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team the 2014 Humanitarian Award. This decision was another event that would erode the reputation of an esteemed national organization.

Since its founding in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been a major leader in the battle for civil rights. In the Jim Crow South it was dangerous to be an avid member of the NAACP. Yet NAACP members persisted in the battle for equality even though it was hazardous to do so. The courageous work of the NAACP has built an exalted reputation for the organization among African Americans.

Unfortunately, several recent missteps have caused some people to wonder whether the NAACP is properly responsive to today’s challenges. One such faux pas was the renunciation of Shirley Sherrod in July of 2010. She was forced to resign as the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of racist remarks she allegedly expressed at an NAACP event.

It turns out that the accusation was a distortion of the facts by the late conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, and all parties finally had to apologize to Sherrod. However, it was unacceptable for the NAACP to throw one of its own supporters under the bus without first reviewing the facts.

On another occasion the NAACP was MIA. Where was the NAACP in Boston when the state Legislature voted to oust Carlos Henriquez from office and thereby overrule the voters of the 5th Suffolk District? That was a clear constitutional violation and an unacceptable precedent.

And now the president of the Los Angeles NAACP was prepared to defame the brand and reputation of the NAACP by presenting a special award to an avowed racist. Fortunately, the award presentation has been cancelled and the NAACP president has resigned.

According to a report by the New York Times, that NAACP branch gave Donald Sterling, the proposed recipient, a similar award in 2009. Leon Jenkins, until recently the president of the Los Angeles NAACP branch, was a Detroit district court judge until he was removed from the bench for accepting bribes and he was disbarred from the practice of law in Michigan. Query whether such qualifications satisfy the standards for an urban or regional NAACP president.

People know that the NAACP will not be effective if it continues to make such mistakes. More efficient management is needed. It would be a shame to lose the impact of a brand that was built by the sacrifices of many Americans for more than a century.