NAACP Gathers for 80th Annual Convention

FROM San Francisco and Dallas, from small towns in Mississippi and Michigan, about 20,000 NAACP members are gathering for their annual convention to debate, renew acquaintances, and regain momentum. The nation's oldest and largest civil rights group opened its annual convention in Detroit on Sunday.

``It's the people from the various communities around the country who set the positions. That's the beauty of this organization,'' said the Rev. Richard Dockery of Dallas, southwest regional director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Annual dues were 50 cents when Mr. Dockery joined the NAACP in 1939.

In the years since, dues have grown to $10 a year. But now as then, Dockery said, the NAACP is the most important voice for black Americans.

The group, which claims 500,000 members nationwide, was founded in 1909 by W.E.B. DuBois and others.

Over the years, it has won many battles, including desegregation of the military, schools and public facilities, voting and other civil rights. Some, including the effort to overcome economic inequality between the races, it has not. Other fights that appeared won now are in doubt, said Benjamin Hooks, NAACP executive director since 1977.

A series of recent US Supreme Court decisions ``just emasculate the civil rights laws,'' Mr. Hooks said. ``In fact, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.''

``It's a sad fact that we're still about the same thing we were when we were founded in 1909 - eliminating all forms of racial discrimination. Racism, sexism are alive and well.''

Despite the grim appraisal, the spirits of Hooks and other delegates appeared joyful on the eve of the 80th annual convention. He said the Supreme Court decisions have boosted interest in the organization, particularly among young black professionals.

In addition to debating resolutions on topics ranging from AIDS to urban decay, the delegates will get a chance to hear from a parade of politicians, including Vice-President Dan Quayle and Jesse Jackson, as well as an assortment of entertainers.

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