Restoring the NAACP

FRESH leadership at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is good not only for that venerable but troubled organization. It's a plus for the country as a whole.

In Kweisi Mfume the NAACP has a director who is acutely atuned to America's political currents. He has served five terms in the House of Representatives and led the Congressional Black Caucus. Under his tutelage, the latter acquired a strong voice in policymaking. Mr. Mfume is well equipped to resuscitate the flagging influence of mainstream civil-rights organizations in national politics, and within the African-American community itself.

That's critical at a time when racial extremism is resurfacing in America. Recent headlines include the racially motivated murder of a black couple by white servicemen stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., the torching of a white-owned store in Harlem, and a white supremacist attack on an Asian man in northern California. Tensions over affirmative action and racial preferences seethe. Reasoned voices, pointing out the continuing need to address racial inequalities while holding to principles of integration and community-building among all Americans, are vitally needed. Mfume, in his new post, can provide one.

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Perhaps as important as Mfume's assets of character and political acumen is his personal background - an urban youth who pulled himself out of street life and made good. He's a model for other young Americans in similar straits. Building bridges to disaffected youth should be a major part of Mfume's work with the NAACP, since the deepest problems of the country's black population are concentrated in the urban environs that spawn those young people. Those problems - which include deficient education, drug use, family breakup, and fear of crime - affect all Americans.

Within the NAACP, the new chief executive officer will face a number of deep-set organizational challenges. Recent leadership presided over the near-financial ruin of the association. Scandal, personal and financial, has dogged the NAACP. We wish Mfume success in correcting those divergences from purpose and restoring an articulate voice for social change and justice.

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