George E. Curry
is a former Washington correspondent and New York bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, was editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine.
Becoming the next chief executive of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was the furthest thing from the mind of the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of the 8,000-member Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. But then a search firm hired by the NAACP invited him in January to apply.
After two rounds of interviews, Haynes was ranked first in a field of three finalists. But four months later, someone else was chosen. The process provides a disturbing inside look at how the nation's oldest civil-rights organization picks its leaders - a process marked by misrepresentation and favoritism.
Benjamin Jealous, the second-ranked candidate and the one preferred by board chair Julian Bond, won the job. Jealous was the only name presented to the full board for consideration. On an up-or-down vote on May 17, Bond's choice was approved 34-21.
Interviews with more than a dozen board members, some willing to be named, others not, shows that NAACP leaders tried to shape the vote, misinforming those likely to vote against Jealous, and allowing him (and forbidding the other two candidates) to campaign openly.
After Jealous was elected, board members contacted me with allegations - which I was able to verify - so serious they must be exposed, if for no other reason than to make the process fairer and more transparent next time.
Take the open-campaigning issue. The search firm warned all candidates not to do so, a directive repeated in a March 12 memo Bond sent to board members, state conference presidents, and trustees of the NAACP special contribution fund. Yet it appears Jealous was allowed, even encouraged to campaign.
After I published a March 6 column in The Inquirer identifying the three finalists, some candidates began to lobby the board members and the national office, Haynes told me, adding that a member of the search firm called him "and said, 'Do not engage in any kind of lobbying because that's not allowed.' . . . And later, I found out that's been the game all along."
Jealous had been playing it well, meeting with friendly and unfriendly board members, including the Rev. Amos Brown of San Francisco and Alice Huffman, president of a California State Conference NAACP in Sacramento. Jealous also met with board member and former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who said, "I told him, 'In my opinion, your credentials are fabulous, but I'm looking for someone with more' - unfortunately, I used the term
. Hillary [Clinton] has made
a bad word."
The Rev. Amos Brown (no relation to Willie Brown) confirmed that he, too, met with Jealous in San Francisco three weeks before the board vote. He said he was unimpressed.
During Jealous' presentation before the full board, he made a remark that underscored Rev. Brown's earlier reservations about the candidate: "Jealous got up before the board and dissed Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Someone asked him during the question-and-answer period what was his relationship with present civil-rights leaders, how did he feel he would get along and interface with them. He said, 'Some of them, I don't think too highly of . . . And when I was with the national black publishers, I discovered that Jesse Jackson did not show up at the meetings unless he wanted something.' He said Al was nothing but an opportunist."
More than six board members have confirmed that Jealous made those remarks or something similar. Board member Jerry Mondesire, publisher of the Philadelphia Sun, said that Jealous "used a closed-door session to undermine previous NAACP leader Ben Hooks as well as make vituperative remarks about Jesse and Al."
Haynes, though the top-ranked candidate, felt anything but embraced by the awkward, three-legged selection process. Under arrangements agreed to by the board in advance, a special 15-member search committee interviewed the candidates and submitted three finalists to the executive committee chaired by Bond. The executive committee advanced the name of one candidate to the full board for an up-or-down vote. Jealous was ranked second by the search committee, but was the only candidate the board was allowed to vote on.
Why had Haynes been passed over? Bonds told board members it was because when asked whether he would step down as pastor of his church in Dallas, Haynes said he would not.
Haynes says his recollection was different. When the issue was raised in his first interview in February, he said, " 'I've been there 25 years and I've not given it sufficient thought because this process has just started. It's something I can look into, but I have to pray about it.' That was not part of my thought process because Ben Hooks had pastored two churches. We have a history of doing more than one thing." (Hooks had simultaneously pastored churches in Memphis and Detroit while directing the NAACP from 1977 to 1993.)
He said that while he did not state he would give up his church, he told the executive committee he felt he could hold down the job of NAACP president and preach on Sundays in Dallas. He cited a list of public figures, including former Congressmen William H. Gray III and Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who held high-profile positions while still pastoring churches in their home districts.
"I told them I have a staff of 60-plus individuals, which is more than they have," Haynes said.
The issue did not come up at all in the second interview, in March. But in the third interview, Haynes said, "the first question posed to me was by Julian. He said, 'In the first interview you indicated in the affirmative that you'd be willing to leave your church. Is that still true?' I had said no such thing, but I could tell he was setting me up to look like I was a liar or that I had changed my mind. He was determined to paint a certain picture."
Some board members say they were shut out of the electoral process. Some of Bond's staunchest allies, including William Lucy and Frank Humphrey, participated in the voting by telephone; other absent members, including Leonard Springs, were not told they could participate in the meeting.
One board member said, "I don't blame Jealous for this. This is not his fault. He was a guy applying for a job, and he happened to land on both feet. He had an advantage that the others didn't. If we're going to play the game like that, let everybody play it."
The "game" has left a bad taste in Haynes' mouth. He said he would never go through such a process again.
"I'm very disappointed in how things were handled," Haynes said. "As far as I'm concerned, the whole process was almost a charade. Julian had who he wanted, and that was going to be his candidate no matter what."