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NAACP tries to put house in order

By Luix OverbeaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 10, 1983



Boston

On the surface the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People seems at peace. Benjamin L. Hooks has been restored to full power as executive director, and Margaret Bush Wilson, chairwoman of the 64-member board of directors, has been reprimanded for suspending him.

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The NAACP, a sleeping giant among the nation's civil rights organizations, looks strong on paper - with more than 1,000 branches, more than 400,000 members , and an updated program for the '80s involving economic parity, jobs, business entrepreneurship, and the usual civil rights issues for blacks. But behind this facade of power, say observers, is a Model T-like organization trying to operate in the jet age.

The NAACP's inner troubles surfaced May 18 when Mrs. Wilson suspended Mr. Hooks from office. A nationwide protest soon followed. Then on May 24, Mrs. Wilson's edict was lifted; and on May 29 a meeting of the board exonerated Mr. Hooks and censured Mrs. Wilson.

The NAACP will try to iron out its problems at two meetings: a special board session in Chicago Saturday called by Mrs. Wilson, and its 74th annual convention July 10-15 in New Orleans.

In her criticisms of the NAACP's national office, Mrs. Wilson posed these questions:

* Can the NAACP be effective under an executive director who is in charge of both implementation of policy and administration of headquarters in New York?

* Can a large membership paying minimum dues - $10 a year basically - provide the funding needed to implement the association's ambitious program? Mrs. Wilson says the NAACP could attract more foundation and corporate funds, if it were more efficiently run.

* Is the present organization - a large board, a thinly manned national staff , a slim cadre of field workers, and a strong dependency on volunteer workers - the most effective structure for a program that goes far beyond legal rights for minorities?

Except for stories in her home city newspaper, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Mrs. Wilson has not talked to the media about her suspension of Hooks. She has been quoted there as saying she regrets taking unilateral action against him.

The official announcement of this Saturday's meeting says Mrs. Wilson is calling it to discuss her problems with Hooks. She has questioned the power of the executive director ever since she became board chairwoman in 1975, when Roy Wilkins was director.

Her chief supporter, NAACP general counsel Thomas I. Atkins, advised her that she had legal authority to discipline Hooks, that the May 29 meeting was illegal (she was one of 12 board members not there), and that her June 11 session would be the proper time to discuss the Hooks issue.

Mrs. Wilson has been asked to resign as board chairman and has been deprived of the chairman's traditional privilege of giving the convention's keynote address.

The meeting this Saturday offers national leaders a chance to compromise their positions and settle their differences by convention time.