BENJAMIN CHAVIS is gone as national director of the NAACP. What is left, we hope, is a still-vital organization poised for rejuvenation.
The NAACP's 64-member board voted Saturday to oust Mr. Chavis, who had been under fire. In June, he stirred a controversy by inviting black separatist leader Louis Farrakhan to an NAACP meeting. In July, Chavis authorized, without board approval, a $332,400 out-of-court settlement with an ex-employee who had lodged a sexual discrimination suit against him. The NAACP board expects to fill the directorship within two months. We know this important organization will search broadly and creatively, for a talented, articulate, and wise leader.
Clearly, the challenges are formidable, and the dangers of missteps high, as witnessed by Mr. Chavis's 16-month tenure. His instincts were to reach out to black youths, many of whom see the NAACP as an outdated relic. He also sought to establish links with radical figures such as Mr. Farrakhan, even though Farrakhan's advocacy of black racial nationalism is clearly far outside the NAACP's deeply integrationist roots.
With fundamental black civil liberties won, the NAACP in recent years has moved into deeper waters, trying to address social and economic problems. These remain acute. Blacks still lag far behind in employment and wages; finding solutions other than massive 1960s-style government social programs - a political nonstarter today - is difficult.
Black families, among whom single-parent homes are close to becoming the majority, face enormous challenges. Drugs and crime still plague black neighborhoods. The support among blacks for the Racial Justice Act, regrettably jettisoned from the crime bill, evidences the deep distrust blacks have toward the American legal system.
The concept of a truly integrated America is still being tested today. The NAACP now faces the daunting, but exhilarating, task of reaching beyond the upwardly mobile to all black Americans while keeping intact the strong alliance with white Americans that has marked its success.