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
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all