MORE

Black Like Us

When Henrietta Faulconer stepped inside South Minneapolis's Sabathani Community Center the morning of January 9, she couldn't believe her eyes. A full 30 minutes before voters were to begin selecting officers in the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, people were already lined up in the hall. A representative of the NAACP's national office was on hand, explaining to the throng that the balloting wouldn't begin until ten. Most of the people he was addressing were white.

Founded in 1909 as a multiracial civil rights organization, the NAACP had always accepted members of all backgrounds. But turnout at local chapter meetings during the two years Faulconer had been a member had typically been light--20 was a standard crowd--and overwhelmingly black.

On her way to Sabathani that morning, Faulconer had been worried that the 30-below wind chill might keep NAACP members away from the election. Then again, she'd reasoned, perhaps people would be prompted to vote by the unprecedented degree of intrigue that had come to surround this election. A fight between two competing slates of would-be officers had landed in the courts, and the controversy had caused the national NAACP to dispatch a staffer to oversee the vote.

Still, Faulconer hadn't expected this kind of crowd. "I said to myself, What would bring so many white people out to vote on such a cold January day for leaders of a little black organization?" the longtime juvenile-justice activist recalls. "Why is this stuff going on in this little black association?"

Thomas Johnson III, an election judge who was tending the table for voters whose last names started with the letters H through L, noticed something else about the morning's crowd: Among those checking in at his station were a number of local politicians. Former state representative Dee Long picked up a ballot, as did Rep. Phyllis Kahn. At the adjacent table, Johnson spotted former Minneapolis mayor Don Fraser, his wife Arvonne, and a number of DFL notables he had never spotted at an NAACP meeting. "It reminded me of an Alice-in-Wonderland-type scenario," Johnson recalls. "Am I seeing this?"

Johnson says that by his tally, whites outnumbered blacks three to one for the first few hours of voting. Later in the day, the ratio was reversed, but the polling place stayed busy until it closed at four. By that time a total of 440 votes had been cast--almost a threefold increase over the previous election.

But if members had hoped the election would end the controversy surrounding the NAACP, they were wrong. More than two months after the vote, the group's president-elect, Minneapolis Deputy Fire Chief Rickie Campbell, has not been sworn in, while incumbent Leola Seals has stopped appearing at NAACP functions. Six veteran members--including five elected to posts on Campbell's ticket--have been suspended for a year by the group's national office. And each side is accusing the other of starting the nastiest episode of internecine fighting in the history of the Minneapolis NAACP.

The battle has occasionally spilled into the local dailies, with stories detailing who was running for office, where the balloting process stood, and when the fracas might be resolved. But nothing reported to date has explained why veteran civil rights crusaders would jeopardize the clout of their almost-century-old organization by publicly botching an election, or why white politicians would get involved in selecting volunteer officers in a local advocacy group. Answering those questions requires a look at the real stakes in the fight--including costly, long-term city and state projects and the prestige of powerful officials.

Under the presidency of Leola Seals, the Minneapolis NAACP staked out new and often controversial positions on several issues critical to local policymakers. Seals challenged the city's handling of a $117 million federal settlement in the Hollman public-housing lawsuit. She called the Minneapolis Police Department's CODEFOR strategy racist. Her followers packed meetings of the Minneapolis school board, protesting the city's performance on educating poor and minority children. And she took a hard line in a desegregation lawsuit filed by the NAACP against the state Board of Education.

Seals was targeted for defeat in the NAACP elections, offers Johnson, because her positions and tactics were anathema to the NAACP's veteran members and their political allies. "I think that when Leola and her contingent stood up, the old guard said, 'These audacious Negroes,'" he says. "If you bump the power structure here, you are set for a showdown."

 

At public functions Seals is rarely as well-dressed or as smoothly spoken as the people who last summer started organizing her ouster. A single mother of five--several of them now adult professionals in their own right--she moved to the Twin Cities from Natchez, Mississippi, and works for Legacy Village, a low-income housing complex on Minneapolis's North Side. Prior to her election to the NAACP presidency, Seals (who did not respond to City Pages' requests for an interview) was virtually unknown in public circles.

 

Past leaders, by contrast, have been active in the organization while also attaining leadership positions in prominent local nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies. Harry Davis, elected president in 1964, went on to become Minneapolis's first black candidate for mayor in 1971 and the third black person elected to the city's school board. Matt Little, who was president for more than seven years in the late '80s and early '90s, was the driving force behind the integration of Minneapolis schools and has been referred to as a mentor of Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton; friends have described him as a conciliator "from the old school." Seals's immediate predecessor, Bill Davis (no relation to Harry Davis), heads the large nonprofit agency Community Action of Minneapolis.

Faulconer and others say they were drawn to Seals's 1996 candidacy because of her raw energy: She promised to tackle a series of issues on which the NAACP had been silent or tactfully low-key. Her election attracted a number of young, activist members who soon earned headlines--and the scorn of veteran members--for the strident tactics they brought to the Minneapolis chapter.

The argument wasn't a new one for the NAACP. Ever since its founding in 1914, the local branch has struggled with differences of opinion over how vocal its protests should be, and how its leaders should relate to the white political establishment. In fact, the events of January 9 reminded Thomas Johnson III, the election judge, of stories his father, prominent Minneapolis physician Thomas Johnson II, told him about his own campaign for NAACP president in 1964.

The elder Johnson, a community leader who was portrayed as a radical at the time, says he thought he had the race against Harry Davis sewn up: He'd been hearing nothing but support at NAACP meetings, and the election was to be held at the Phyllis Wheatley House, which had been his informal headquarters.

But the morning of the vote, several school buses packed with "little old white ladies" clutching brand-new NAACP membership cards pulled up at the polling place. Johnson says he and his supporters were convinced that the novice voters had been recruited by the DFL Party. Johnson and other black activists had been pushing unions to drop clauses that prevented non-Caucasians from joining, and many in organized labor--the L in the DFL--weren't happy about this.

Whether Johnson's suspicions were justified or his assessment of his own chances was simply too optimistic may never be known. In either case, he lost by a landslide.

 

Bitter as its internal struggles might be, the Minneapolis NAACP always seemed to coalesce around the major issues of its day. In the 1930s and '40s, the group's focus was discrimination in the workplace; the '50s and '60s brought protests over segregation in housing and local businesses. But it was during the 1970s that the Minneapolis NAACP became a household name as it mounted a massive challenge to the local public-education system.

At the time, elementary-school-age kids went to neighborhood schools, most of which--like the communities around them--were dominated by a single race. In a lawsuit spearheaded by Matt Little and Barbara Bearman, both NAACP members whose names have surfaced again in the current controversy, the group charged that this system violated the U.S. Supreme Court's prohibition of "separate but equal" education. In 1973 a federal judge sided with the NAACP and required the district to integrate the schools.

It was, however, something of a Pyrrhic victory. In the years following the ruling, the number of white families moving to the suburbs skyrocketed. In 1974 Minneapolis had around 55,000 public-school students, and four of five were white; by 1989 the number of students had dropped to 40,000, and half were children of color. Some schools found themselves with student bodies that were up to 95 percent minority, and district officials began talking about dropping the desegregation guidelines and returning to neighborhood schools.

In 1995, under the leadership of then-president Bill Davis, the NAACP filed another federal desegregation suit--this time against the state. The October 1995 suit did not challenge Minneapolis's plans for what were now dubbed "community schools." Rather, it charged that by allowing minority students to become concentrated in the inner city, the state was failing in its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education for all children.

"A segregated education is per se an inadequate education," the suit alleged. "Minneapolis public schools contain a far greater proportion of students living in poverty than do suburban schools. This...directly results in lower school achievement. Racial segregation...further exacerbates these problems." The suit called for such far-reaching solutions as a metro-wide desegregation plan and integration in housing. (State and NAACP lawyers are preparing to take the case to an outside mediator.)

 

If Bill Davis's NAACP targeted the state as the chief villain in the segregation debate, Leola Seals's election marked a dramatic shift. After she bested Davis in the hotly contested 1996 NAACP presidential vote, Seals turned the group's focus to the desegregation issue closest to home--Minneapolis's community-schools proposal.

With the support of the NAACP and its lawyers, parents of color began a series of headline-making protests at Minneapolis school board meetings. They demanded that the board drop the community-schools plan, and that officials find ways to improve the test scores of minority and low-income children. (At the time, some 90 percent of black students failed at least part of the state's basic-skills test, and community leaders referred to the school system as "dysfunctional" and "sick.")

A few months after the demonstrations began, the board moved to dismiss Superintendent Peter Hutchinson. Some observers believe the move was born, in part, of the board's realization that it was difficult for a white man to defend the schools against protests from parents of color. In June 1997 the black superintendent of the St. Louis Park schools, Carol Johnson, was appointed to take Hutchinson's place.

The demonstrations, however, continued. Activists from the NAACP, the Urban League and the state Council on Black Minnesotans drew up an action plan that, among other things, called for the resignation of school board members whom they held responsible for the district's low test scores. School board meetings turned into shouting matches as protesters demanded time to speak and officials complained that they were being personally attacked.

State Rep. Richard Jefferson, a longtime NAACP member, was among those who watched TV footage of the meetings and cringed every time the angry crowds were identified as being led by the Minneapolis NAACP. "I felt that the protests and the way they were being carried out were wrong," says Jefferson. "I felt that some people were apparently using the organization and its standing for their own purposes."

 

Even as Jefferson and others fumed over the school-board protests, the NAACP was upsetting official Minneapolis on other fronts. The group had gone head-to-head with Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton over the CODEFOR plan, under which police targeted specific neighborhoods with a crackdown on minor offenses like loitering and jaywalking. Sayles Belton lauded the program as partly responsible for a drop in the city's crime rate. But the NAACP called it racist, claiming police were essentially declaring an open season on young black men.

More troublesome to the mayor and City Council was Seals's criticism of projects associated with the so-called Hollman decree. In 1992 the NAACP had joined forces with public-housing tenants and the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis to sue the city, state, and federal governments for creating a segregated public-housing district in the Near North neighborhood. The suit was settled in 1995 by an agreement under which the city agreed to demolish hundreds of units of public housing, and to create new units in more affluent parts of the city and the suburbs.

The demolitions began almost immediately, and the city is now looking for developers to rebuild the area where the subsidized homes once stood. Planners envision a neighborhood in which 75 percent of the housing is market-rate. Meanwhile, only a handful of low-income replacement units have been built.

Last August Seals threw a wrench into the Hollman works by announcing that the NAACP--one of the signatories to the original settlement--wanted $20 million of the $117 million worth of funds the federal government had promised as its share of the deal. The organization would use the money, Seals said, to improve housing and job prospects for former residents of the area--something that wouldn't happen, she charged, if the land and the cash went to the city's hand-picked developers. Public officials scoffed at the proposal, and soon both sides were accusing each other of money-grubbing.

At the time, Minneapolis City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes, who oversees the city's Hollman Implementation Committee, said that the money given to the city by HUD was already earmarked for redevelopment projects. She also criticized Seals's plan to have the Northside Economic Development Council--an agency headed by the NAACP's point person on Hollman, Robert Woods--handle the money. Cherryhomes charged that the group had been investigated for misappropriating city funds, an allegation Woods denied. (Neither Cherryhomes nor Woods returned calls for this story.)

Some Hollman-watchers suspect that what really worried city officials about Seals's position was the potential for her to stop the project dead in its tracks. Kirk Hill, head of the Minnesota Tenants Union, says the original decree allowed any of the parties to the lawsuit to go back to court and challenge the deal's implementation. Taking advantage of that option, Hill says, could have been a powerful weapon for Seals's NAACP. "It's the Achilles' heel of the arrangement," he says. "And everyone is very aware of it."

 

 

It was around the time both the Hollman and school-board controversies peaked that Seals's opponents decided it was time for a change in leadership. Jefferson says he was approached last summer by a group of "old-guard" members who "wanted to know whether I was aware of what was going on within the NAACP." The group felt the same way he did, he says: The NAACP they knew and loved had not been "a combative, confrontational, and antagonistic kind of organization. [But] this was where the organization over the last couple of years was going."

The former head of Minneapolis's public housing agency and a member of the Legislature since 1987, Jefferson had plenty of name recognition. He'd already announced plans to retire from the House of Representatives at the end of 1998. The group asked if he would run against Seals. He thought about it for a week and then said yes.

Defeating Seals, Jefferson and his allies determined, would require an all-out recruiting effort. "We carried out quite a campaign," he says. "We managed to enroll over 400 members. Not all of them were new--there were some who didn't renew [their memberships] because they had lost interest over the last couple of years."

Among Jefferson's most active supporters was Phyllis Harvin, sister of school superintendent Carol Johnson and a member of the African-American professional women's organization the Links. According to the organization's member newsletter, Matt Little and Bill Davis last summer wrote a letter to the Links "in reference to support of the NAACP and concerns about current leadership." It was read at the September 1998 meeting; at the same meeting, Johnson spoke "to the current trends and thought pattern of the current Minneapolis NAACP."

Links members were urged to join the NAACP on the spot. Those who didn't sign up at the meeting were directed to send their applications to the home of Barbara Bearman, the NAACP veteran who had been involved in the 1971 school-desegregation suit and was now part of the group that had drafted Jefferson. Links members were also asked to vote in the election then scheduled for November 14--the same day the group was slated to hold a fundraiser fashion show at a downtown hotel.

"Voting will only take a few minutes, so plan to go by Sabathani a few minutes before or after the fashion show," the October issue of the Links newsletter explained. "Your action relative to participating will allow for the election of NAACP leadership that is supportive of our own Carol Johnson and Sharon Sayles Belton."

Recruiting was under way elsewhere as well. Don Fraser, the former Minneapolis mayor, has a lifetime membership in the NAACP and says he has voted in the past. But his wife Arvonne, a longtime DFL activist, says she was asked to sign up and vote last summer by Bearman, who was running for one of the group's leadership positions on the Jefferson slate. No particular issues prompted her to join, Fraser says: "You just do what your friends ask you to do."

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn says she became an NAACP member last summer because she was interested in voting for Jefferson. "It had to do with wanting to make sure that this organization was a viable organization in the issues that it was involved in. I thought that the people that..." Here Kahn pauses. "I don't really want to go into details. I was informed about it by other people, and I thought that a change in leadership was a good idea."

Kahn's state House colleague Dee Long says she, too, joined the NAACP in late summer to support Jefferson's candidacy. "There was no organized DFL activity," she says now. "There may have been friends of Richard Jefferson who had feelings about the election. But I think trying to put a partisan spin on this in some way is just far-fetched."

 

By the time the NAACP held its candidate-nominating meeting in October, Jefferson had assembled an illustrious slate of candidates to challenge Seals and her supporters. His proposed vice president was Gary Cunningham, the former head of human resources for the Minneapolis schools. Matt Little was running for a post on the group's executive committee; so were Phyllis Harvin, Deputy Fire Chief Ricky Campbell, Minneapolis Civil Rights Department head Kenneth White, and longtime DFL activist RoseAnn Zimbro.

According to minutes of the meeting, the proceedings started out in a pretty humdrum fashion. Branch secretary Andy Martin checked the names of Seals's nominees against a list of people who had been members in good standing for 180 days. One candidate, John R. Green, had been delayed in renewing his membership and was ruled ineligible.

 

Then, the minutes report, Seals opened the floor for further nominations. Longtime member and University of Minnesota executive Josie Johnson nominated Jefferson, and Barbara Bearman presented the papers required to nominate the opposition slate. Those names having been entered into the record, Seals "called three times for other nominations for president," the minutes report. "She closed nominations."

Jesse Overton, head of the committee that had renominated Seals, rose to challenge a technical detail about Jefferson's nomination. He asked for a ruling from the meeting's parliamentarian, Ron Edwards, a candidate for the executive committee on the Seals ticket. Edwards began reading from the election manual.

Which was when all hell broke loose. Davis complained that only the chair could ask for the parliamentarian's intervention. He asked to go ahead with Jefferson's nomination. "President Seals said it is not a voting matter," the minutes continue. "Mr. Davis said that during the presidential nominations President Seals should step down from the chair. President Seals said that he broke that rule two years ago when he was president. President Seals said that she is following the book."

An argument ensued as to whether the book in question was Robert's Rules of Order or the NAACP's national rules. By this time, according to the minutes, a number of people were standing and debating loudly. After a while, someone thought to ask Seals whether Jefferson had in fact been nominated; she replied that he had. Overton renewed his objection, but Seals moved on with the agenda.

After the meeting, several members of Jefferson's slate contacted the NAACP's state and national offices to complain that the nominating meeting had been mishandled. They did not, however, follow the complaint procedure outlined in the NAACP bylaws--submitting a formal grievance to the state organization. The oversight would later prove critical.

On November 12, two days before the election was scheduled to take place, five members of the Jefferson ticket filed suit in Hennepin County District Court seeking to have the election halted. Although the minutes from the October meeting suggest that Jefferson and his allies had in fact been nominated, the suit charged Seals with refusing to recognize the nominations, as well as with a number of parliamentary missteps. (The suit was dropped three weeks later.)

Apparently unable to sort out the fracas long-distance, the national office canceled the balloting date and assigned a staff member from the regional office to oversee fresh proceedings. The regional representative rescheduled the election for January 9, and then dropped a bombshell of his own: Jefferson might have been nominated, he announced, but he couldn't run for branch president because he was behind on his dues.

Jefferson says that in 1994 or '95 he decided to stop paying ten dollars in annual dues and become a lifetime NAACP member instead. He signed a contract agreeing to pay $500 over the next ten years, and plunked down a check for $200. In 1997, however, the national NAACP changed the rules governing lifetime memberships. Jefferson says he was sure that didn't affect his contract. When he learned that his membership was being examined, he says, he wrote out a check for another $150. Later he paid off the rest of the membership.

Still, the national office ruled that Jefferson could not run because he had gone more than 12 months without making a dues payment. "I accepted their ruling," he says. "I didn't believe it, but I had no problem accepting it." He and his allies settled on Campbell, the deputy fire chief, as the group's new presidential candidate.

Jefferson found one last use for his House of Representatives letterhead. He sent out a mailing asking his supporters to vote for Campbell and the roster of candidates running with him.

 

When the polls finally opened on January 9, lines at the ballot tables weren't the only surprise awaiting voters. Seals supporters say a number of longtime members were not allowed to vote. Some were given "challenged" ballots, which were to remain sealed until officers determined whether they were valid. Doug Mann, a white Seals supporter who was active in the protests against the school board, says he was among those given such a ballot. Last month he wrote to Julian Bond, chair of the NAACP's national board, questioning the fairness of the election.

Mann says he did not receive official notice of the voting date from the branch secretary--who was running for reelection on the Campbell slate--but did receive a flyer from Seals asking for his support. Figuring that he might expect problems voting, he showed up at Sabathani loaded for bear: "When I went to the polling place on January 9, 1999," he wrote to Bond, "I brought documentation to prove that I was eligible to vote: a driver's license, the mailing from Leola Seals, and other ID which showed that I am a resident of the city of Minneapolis; a card issued by the national office of the NAACP which identified me as a sustaining member of the NAACP until January 1999; a receipt for payment of a $50 installment on a life membership on December 23 signed by branch executive committee member Dorothy Woolfork, and a photocopy of the check, which cleared my bank on December 31, 1998.

 

"However, my ballot was challenged on the basis that my name was not on the list of eligible voters. It seemed unusual, not only because of the documentation which I brought with me, but also because I am well known to branch members who regularly attend branch membership meetings.

"My vote for branch officers should have been counted," Mann concluded. "Was it?"

A month went by before the national NAACP announced the results of the election. A total of 438 ballots had been cast. Twenty-two of them were challenged; four of those were eventually counted, giving Campbell a 218-202 victory over Seals. Campbell's allies captured all five officer positions and 14 of 22 seats on the executive committee.

Whether the 18 uncounted ballots would have tipped the scales in Seals's direction remains unknown.

After the results were released, Campbell and his supporters moved quickly. At the next regularly scheduled meeting of the branch's executive committee, held at Sabathani on February 15, Campbell announced that he had been sworn in days before. Leola Seals stepped to the front of the room, produced a sheaf of envelopes, and began enumerating their contents to Campbell and the branch secretary. Several contained donations, others receipts or vouchers for small amounts of money spent since the last treasurer's report.

As she fumbled to remove keys to the branch office from her key ring, Seals reminded the 30 or so people present that at the previous meeting, the executive committee had directed her to start an audit of the branch's finances. Seals said she had turned the books over to an auditor in Wisconsin and was awaiting his report.

As Seals stood to leave, someone offered a resolution thanking her for her two years of service to the branch. Arrayed around several tables at the head of the room, people elected to Campbell's executive committee began applauding. A thin smile frozen on her face, Seals made her way to the back of the room.

That was as long as the barely cordial atmosphere lasted. Before Campbell moved to swear in the new executive committee members, Seals supporter Jesse Overton jumped up and insisted that the action was improper. Some of those present couldn't be sworn in, Overton charged, because they had been expelled 48 hours earlier at a meeting of the NAACP's state conference.

(At their convention in Rochester, the state delegates had voted to throw out the six veterans who filed the lawsuit seeking to block the November election: Cunningham, Bearman, Davis, Woolfork, Jefferson, and Little. State NAACP coordinator Claudie Washington says the conference concluded that the six were found to be in violation of a policy requiring members to file internal grievances before turning to the courts.)

Several of the six had been at the state meeting, Overton shouted, jabbing the air with his cell phone for emphasis. How dare four of them--Cunningham, Bearman, Davis, and Woolfork--conduct business as NAACP officers without clarification of their status as members? At this point, several people were on their feet arguing about the matter. Campbell ignored the protest and swore in the rest of the new officers and committee members. The meeting adjourned.

The following Friday, while the NAACP's national board was voting to confirm the state convention's findings and suspend the six members associated with the lawsuit, Matt Little held a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol. Introducing himself as the chair of the Minneapolis branch's education committee, Little said that the organization would drop the desegregation suit against the state if a number of conditions were met. The plaintiffs would be happy, he said, if suburbs were required to let city students enroll in their schools, and if transportation were provided for urban kids to do so. Little didn't mention Minneapolis's community-schools policy, or his uncertain status as an NAACP member.

 

Rickie Campbell won't discuss most of the controversy still engulfing the branch. "I'm not going to throw out any dirty laundry," he says. "My intent is to serve the branch and draw it back together so we can move forward." Besides, he adds, "Right now the articles that have been done about me have been very positive, and I'd like to keep it that way."

 

He is troubled, however, by critics' suggestions that his would be a "pro-city" NAACP. As fire marshal, Campbell may be a city employee. But, he notes, to get there he participated in an NAACP-backed lawsuit challenging the fire department's failure to recruit and promote minorities. "All you have to do is take a look at my track record," he says. "I have taken the city and the [fire] department to task on several issues and won. I can't see why that would suddenly change." Should an issue present him with a conflict of interest, he says, he will step aside.

Campbell says he has contemplated running for NAACP office for some time, but hadn't planned on doing it this year. He says he was drafted to run against Seals and has come to see himself as "the guy in the middle" who doesn't "really want to fan the fire."

For the time being, Campbell's status remains in limbo--as does most everything else about the Minneapolis NAACP. The national representative who once handled the matter, Mark Clack, retired several weeks ago; officials referred questions to the regional office in Detroit, whose representatives did not return phone calls.

Washington, the NAACP state conference chair, confirms that the organization's internal affairs committee, composed of representatives of several area branches, is looking into complaints about the Minneapolis election. Under NAACP protocol, once the panel announces its findings, the matter will go before a committee at the national office. Washington says he hopes the issue will be resolved by the Minneapolis branch's next general meeting, scheduled for March 20. If Campbell's election is allowed to stand, he may be sworn in at that time. Until then Seals technically remains the chapter's president.

It's unlikely, however, that a final decision on the election will quell the fighting within the branch. One subject that may come up in the near future, members suggest, is the review of the branch's finances that was begun by Seals earlier this year. According to a preliminary copy of the review obtained by City Pages, the accountant hired by Seals found a number of "undocumented" transactions in the group's books for 1995. The report does not say whether the errors suggest anything more than simple oversight; no one at the NAACP will discuss the document.

Among the questions raised by the Hudson, Wisconsin-based firm, Wipfli Ullrich Bertelson, was why a deposit of $70,000--money the city had been ordered to pay the NAACP for its Hollman-related legal fees--showed up on the group's bank records, but was not accounted for in the treasurer's reports. The auditors also noted that the treasurer's records did not reflect a $20,000 contribution and a $10,000 loan made to a nonprofit headed by Richard Jefferson and Phyllis Harvin. The group raised funds for a memorial to former NAACP national director and Twin Cities native Roy Wilkins.

According to Paul Mandell of the Capitol Area Architectural Committee and Planning Board, which oversaw the construction of the memorial, the $20,000 donation was received. Mandell says he has no record of a $10,000 loan, but he says the NAACP spent about that much on a dedication ceremony for the memorial in 1995. Mandell's records do show a $92,000 loan was made to the memorial committee by the Minnesota Nonprofits Assistance Fund, and that the check was mailed to Harvin at the NAACP's Minneapolis office. A spokesman for the fund says he doesn't recall any loan being made to the memorial committee.

When asked about the report, state NAACP chair Claudie Washington will only say that "no complaint has been made" about the Minneapolis branch's finances. If a complaint were lodged, he adds, the organization would automatically investigate.

 

Judging from NAACP meetings since the election, rank-and-file members are anxious to see the infighting end. At a recent gathering, more than 30 people showed up to find Campbell presiding but unable to conduct any business. Lacking any formal authority and with most of his allies suspended from the organization, Campbell made an impassioned plea for harmony. He said he had been contemplating hiring a facilitator to help the group ease out of its internal battles. "Let's face it: Within the last six weeks this branch has been turned upside down," he said. "I consider us to be a family, and within all families there are problems. It's very difficult to look in the mirror and say, 'I have a problem.' But it's something we must do."

 

At the back of the room, a woman asked to speak. She identified herself as a mother of five and a branch member who had been working on the desegregation suit against the state. She was worried, she said, that as the NAACP tore itself apart, lawmakers and state officials were making critical decisions about the mediation agenda. The last settlement offer she had seen, she said, was nowhere near adequate.

"If that's what they're working on at the Legislature, then we're in trouble," she said. "That document has no teeth. It is very dangerous. We might end up with something that is worse than what we've got now."

Similar concerns have been raised by other rank-and-file NAACP members. According to members present at a recent city forum on the implementation of Hollman, no one showed up to represent the organization. Similarly, when a mysterious fire broke out at a North Side mosque earlier this month, it was the St. Paul branch of the NAACP that sent representatives with a $1,000 check to start a reconstruction fund.

Controversy, concludes Claudie Washington, is the last thing the NAACP needs at a time when the national organization has just come out from under the bad press conjured by the firing of former executive director Ben Chavis. "We almost died," says Washington. "Can you imagine what all of the corporations that have contributed to the NAACP over the years--what they're thinking when they see this in the newspaper?

"People become involved in the NAACP for many, many reasons," he says. "Some people jump on board to try to contribute. People also jump on board to make a name for themselves." It's time, Washington argues, to recognize that neither side wins as the dispute drags on. "People who got caught up in that 'he said, she said' stuff are now finding out that they shouldn't be on either side."


Sponsor Content