The nation's ``big four'' civil rights organizations are facing particularly hard times. The four -- the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity) -- are being criticized for:
Having limited appeal to younger, middle-class blacks.
Being out of touch with grass-roots, inner-city people, the unemployed, and the undereducated.
Being poorly managed.
Black critics also censure civil rights leaders for being too emotional (preachers head the NAACP, SCLC, and PUSH), for begging too much, and for being aloof from reality. All have discussed these problems at conventions this summer.
``Black leadership is on trial,'' said John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League, after the close of the league's national convention this week in Washington. ``We are challenged to [become] finely tuned operations with new and younger members, ready to meet the needs of a 21st-century black constituency.''
Mr. Jacob said the league's Council of Executives (made up of the leaders of its 113 local affiliates) had come up with an organizational remedy for the league.
``We'll deal with long-range and broad topics at the national level,'' he said, and let the affiliates stick with local issues.
The Urban League convention, like the NAACP's before it, denounced South African apartheid and heard political leaders of both major parties.
But league members did not jeer Republican speakers, as had NAACP conventioners earlier this year.
Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, who addressed the league's convention, met with Jacob, NAACP executive director Benjamin L. Hooks, and other black leaders to discuss relations between the GOP and blacks.
``Mr. Hooks and Mr. Jacob are working with us to set up another meeting,'' said Senate majority leader Dole after addressing the league. ``We hope to increase the number of Republicans and black leaders in future sessions.''
Jacob is seeking to combine civil rights traditions of the past with race-relations issues of today. ``We are dedicated,'' he said, ``to end racism -- whether in urban public school systems or in the mean and vicious apartheid system of South Africa.'' He was referring to the Urban League's latest venture, a street demonstration at the South African Embassy, during which 44 marchers, including Jacob, were arrested.
The National Urban League is developing new projects to attract funds. Federal grants dropped from $29 million four years ago to $13 million in 1984, Jacob says.
One such project is the new Male Responsibility Program, designed to enhance the league's efforts to reduce teen-age parentage. It will kick off with a news media push: ``Don't make a baby if you can't be a father.'' Edward Pitt, director of the league's Health Cluster, is working with local affiliates to promote this campaign, which encourages male teen parents to take responsibility for their offspring.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is financing the first phase of the teen-parenting program in 10 local leagues. Twenty other affiliates have started independent programs. Statistics show that in 1982, black teen-agers gave birth to 145,929 children, Mr. Pitt said, 87 percent of them born to single mothers. He added that 22 percent of 18-year-old black women are mothers.