Scandals threaten career of black civil rights boss

WASHINGTON - The largest and most venerable civil rights group in the United States, the NAACP, is embroiled in financial crisis and a leadership scandal. It may cost the organisation its controversial director, Benjamin Chavis and much of its dwindling prestige and influence as a mouthpiece of black America, writes Rupert Cornwell.

The moment of truth for Mr Chavis will come at a special board meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People this weekend in Baltimore, amid allegations that he misused NAACP money to settle a sexual discrimination suit against him by a former employee. Mr Chavis denies all wrongdoing and says he will not resign. Few believe that he can survive.

Since he defeated the Rev Jesse Jackson to become NAACP director in March 1993, Mr Chavis has been a divisive figure. The organisation he inherited was fusty and ineffectual, judged to have lost touch with black society.

Mr Chavis, 49, a civil rights activist who spent nearly five years in prison following a wrongful conviction for arson, moved with a vengeance to change things. He made overtures to rap groups, inner city gang-leaders and the radical Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. The policy boosted the NAACP's appeal to youth at the price of alienating the old guard. In his recent difficulties, few from within the organisation have defended Mr Chavis.

One difficulty is financial. Mr Chavis is accused of turning an NAACP operating surplus of dollars 600,000 ( pounds 400,000) when he took over into a potentially ruinous dollars 3m deficit, thanks to extravagances like a private limousine fleet, generous salary increases to more than 100 top NAACP staff and foreign junkets. Anxious NAACP contributors have withheld money, among them the Ford Foundation, which has frozen a dollars 250,000 grant decided in June.

The deadliest cut has been the lawsuit filed by his former aide, Mary Stansel. It accused Mr Chavis of breaching a private settlement of her complaints of sexual discrimination and wrongful dismissal from the job she briefly held at the NAACP after he became director.

The lawsuit claims Mr Chavis committed dollars 332,000 of NAACP money to pay off Ms Stansel. A sum of dollars 82,000 was forthcoming. But dollars 250,000 - the sum Mr Chavis supposedly promised to pay her if he could not find her a good job in the Washington area - was not. At which point she sued, adding that she was sexually harassed by Mr Chavis when they worked together.

Many NAACP board members are inclined to accept his denials. Ms Stansel is litigious even by American standards. In the last decade she has brought three questionable lawsuits, all resulting in out-of-court settlements. But they are outraged that Mr Chavis kept his dealings from them.

The director maintains he wanted to spare the NAACP adverse publicity and the cost of a court case. But for the substantial faction on the 64-member board which never supported him, the explanation does not suffice. 'His judgement is in question,' one board critic said. 'He was not being straight with people . . . we don't know what to expect next.'

Yesterday some civil rights leaders, including Mr Jackson, spoke out for Mr Chavis, claiming he was being victimised. But many powerful NAACP chapters from the South are demanding his resignation. The board chairman, William Gibson, has also muted his previous expressions of support.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy