With Gordon's Departure, NAACP Seeks New Leader
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The NAACP has begun a search for a new president. Over the weekend, Bruce Gordon resigned as president of the civil rights organization. His abrupt departure was a surprise, given that he took office just over a year and a half ago.
Senior correspondent Juan Williams joins us to talk about this. Hello.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with why Bruce Gordon decided to resign.
WILLIAMS: Well, it's clear that he was out of line, if you will, with the board of directors of the NAACP. It's a large board, about 64 members. And the emphasis coming from the chairman of the board, Julian Bond, was to continue having the organization represent social justice, social equity, and lot of rhetoric as opposed to any kind of specific programmatic response, which was backed by this new president, Bruce Gordon, when he came onboard 19 months ago.
Gordon said that he wanted to bring a corporate style - he'd been a executive at Verizon - to the NAACP. What that means is that it would be accountable and effective in delivering services, social services. Things like addressing the issues of unemployment, high rates of out-of-wedlock birth, problems in terms of the school systems. This was what Bruce Gordon thought was the next era for the NAACP.
MONTAGNE: Well, okay, so Julian Bond is still chairman of the board. Does this portend disarray in the organization?
WILLIAMS: It does. The organization is really struggling now to find its footing in this era, Renee. This is a time when, clearly, you have tremendous progress in terms of the black middle class in America. You look off in terms of the size of the Congressional Black Caucus. You look at the power of the politics in big cities as well as in even having a Barack Obama run for president.
The organization is trying to find its way in terms of the new racial dynamic in the country with Hispanics as the largest minority group, with African-Americans more affluent and politically powerful than ever, and yet having to deal with the persistence of a 25 percent poverty rate.
MONTAGNE: Well, you talk about post-civil rights. That brings us to questions about the presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They're both vying for the black vote.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely, Renee. And what you see is it's really a different look at exactly the kind of turmoil that's afflicting the NAACP. You've had long-term political leaders in the black community very resistant to Barack Obama, reluctant to acknowledge him as a frontrunner in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and initially, in fact, questioning whether or not he was even black.
A lot of that is very similar in this sense. They are more accustomed, more comfortable to the kind of patronage politics that would come from having a President Clinton in office where they know how the money, the contracts, the relationships flow, that they have access to that kind of president even as a white person. As opposed to saying, you know what, this young black man, Barack Obama, is creating a new racial dynamic in the country, creating lots of enthusiasm, attracting large crowds.
But they don't know Barack Obama. They're not assured that they are going to have the access, that they're going to have the kind of political deals in place with a Barack Obama that they had with a President Clinton, and by logic, therefore with Senator Clinton, the former president's wife. They know and feel that they are assured of their place in that kind of patronage political game. They're not assured of it with a Barack Obama.
MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams spoke to us from Memphis.
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