The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) condemned the Tea Party movement last month for alleged bigotry within its ranks. The mainstream always seems extreme to extremists. As the following top-ten list demonstrates, the NAACP, a hotbed of political hotheads in recent years, isn’t the best organization to be lecturing others about extremism.
10. In March 2008, ABC News revealed that Barack Obama’s pastor had preached that African Americans should sing “not God Bless America, God Damn America,” that 9/11 proved that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” and that the U.S. government invented AIDS. The following month, on April 28, 2008, the NAACP’s Detroit chapter honored the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a keynote speaker at a massive dinner.
9. In 2000, the NAACP filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Mumia Abu Jamal, the former Black Panther who murdered a white police officer in 1981. “I shot the motherf—– and I hope the motherf—– dies,” three witnesses heard a wounded Abu Jamal exclaim in a Philadelphia hospital.
8. The rhetoric of Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2000, exemplifies the organization’s migration from the mainstream to the extreme. In his words, Republicans are “the white people’s party” and “a crazed swarm of right-wing locusts,” America morphs into a place where “white supremacy” is “everywhere,” and the George W. Bush Administration exemplifies a regime “whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection.”
7. On July 1, 1934, W.E.B. Du Bois resigned from the organization he helped found after an ugly feud with the NAACP’s more moderate leaders, crudely accusing Walter White, an African American, of being white. The previous year, Du Bois called for a plan that “will involve increased segregation and perhaps migration” for African Americans. “The thinking colored people of the United States must stop being stampeded by the word segregation,” Du Bois insisted in the January 1934 issue of The Crises, adding four months later: “I fight segregation with segregation.” The parting of ways saved the NAACP further embarrassment. Their founder made an ill-advised trip to Nazi Germany in 1936 that resulted in, among other lamentable items, “The German Case against Jews,” an apologia in which Du Bois excused German anti-Semitism as a “reasoned prejudice” based on “economic fear.”
6. For many, April 8, 1994 was the day the NAACP jumped the shark. The group invited a rogue’s gallery of crackpots, extremists, and racists to a secret meeting, dubbed (take a deep breath): “a deliberate mechanism for communication and interrelations between representative leaders of the progressive community and the NAACP within the inclusive mission of the Chavis administration and the African-centered self-determined program thrust of the ‘new’ NAACP.” Attendees included black supremacist Leonard Jeffries, famous for his “sun people”/”ice people” dichotomy to explain the differences between blacks and whites; Maulana Karenga, the originator of Kwanzaa who went to prison for torturing two women; and fringe presidential candidate Lenora Fulani.
5. Louis Farrakhan teaches that an evil scientist named Yakub created white people, claims to have been abducted in a UFO, and has made a mountain of anti-Semitic utterances. So it shocked many when the NAACP invited the Nation of Islam grand panjandrum to participate in a “leadership summit” on June 12-14, 1997.
4. When Al Gore selected Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2000, Dallas NAACP chapter head Lee Alcorn responded with alarm that a Jewish American had been selected on a national ticket. “I’m concerned about, you know, any kind of Jewish candidate, you know, and I’m concerned about the Democratic Party,” Alcorn said on a radio program. “And if we get a Jew person, then what I’m wondering is, I mean, what is this movement for, you know?” African Americans, the NAACP leader maintained, “need to be suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, money and these kind of things.”
3. The Obama Administration bounced Van Jones out of its administration after the media learned he had led a Communist organization, signed a petition claiming that the Bush Administration “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen,” and organized a vigil on September 12, 2001 memorializing the victims of U.S. imperialism. Though Jones was ultimately too extreme for the U.S. President, he was just right for the NAACP’s president. On February 26, 2010, the NAACP’s Image Awards bestowed a “President’s Award” upon Van Jones.
2. In the 1970s, a judge sentenced Benjamin Chavis to prison for his role in the firebombing a white-owned grocery store in a black part of Wilmington, N.C. A judge overturned his conviction on a technicality in 1980, with Chavis’s makeover so complete that the NAACP elected him chairman on April 9, 1993. A few months later, Chavis demanded the inclusion of the Nation of Islam in a 30th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. He explained, “I want everybody here to know that the NAACP is standing with the Nation of Islam.” Angela Davis, Sister Souljah, and Leonard Jeffries were among the extremists Chavis extended an olive branch to during his short tenure as NAACP leader. Chavis, a former Christian minister, has joined the Nation of Islam since his firing from the NAACP.
1. Ten years after the NAACP and W.E.B. Du Bois originally parted company in 1934, the civil rights organization welcomed him back. Whereas Du Bois’s peculiar racial views led to the first parting, his support for communism led to the final parting in 1948. Du Bois subsequently eulogized Stalin as a “great” and “courageous” man that had been “attacked and slandered as few men of power have been,” likened North Korean Communists to the American patriots of 1776, accepted a Lenin Peace Prize, was feted with a nation holiday in Maoist China, joined the Communist Party USA, renounced his American citizenship, and emigrated to Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana.
Rather than unnamed “racists” operating on the peripheries, or six-degrees-of-separation logic that lamely attempts to project X’s extremism upon Y, the above examples involve the NAACP’s official acts and duly elected leaders. In a few cases, such as with Lee Alcorn and W.E.B. Du Bois, the NAACP repudiated the extremism and severed ties. In each instance, the NAACP’s leadership, and not yahoos acting in its name, brought shame upon the organization.
For most of its history, the NAACP has served as a force of political moderation and sought the laudable goal of an integrated society where people of color could reach their fullest human potential unhampered by discrimination. For most of its recent history, the NAACP has self-righteously designated itself the arbiter of who is and who is not a racist—even as it sponsors black racists.
“What we take issue with is the Tea Party’s continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements,” NAACP CEO Ben Jealous remarked upon his group’s anti-Tea Party resolution. “The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no place for racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in their movement.”
Isn’t it time for the NAACP to accept responsibility for its own extremism?