Better Days Ahead After NAACP Housecleaning?

Those who believe clouds carry silver linings hope that the Dallas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will quickly put its recent troubles aside and become the effective civil rights organization it was in years past.

During a particularly tumultuous year for Dallas minorities, the NAACP has been all but missing in action. Sources inside the group point to a year-long fixation on the problems of chapter president Ted Watkins as the reason for the lackluster performance. The problems started earlier this year with Watkins’s election to a fourth term (the victory was marred by accusations of voting improprieties) and culminated in Watkins’s temporary ouster by the national office of the NAACP. For months, the 2,000-member local chapter has been too concerned with its own inner torment to provide much visible leadership.

Watkins was suspended following charges that he plunged me local chapter into debts approaching $60,000, spent NAACP funds without the board’s consent, maintained sketchy financial records, and disregarded the charter-mandated voucher system for disbursing chapter funds. Watkins also reportedly forged signatures on an application for a $10,000 bank loan and ignored unpaid chapter bills. Sources say the loan was forfeited along with the collateral furnished by local businessman Comer Cottrell.

Some of Watkins’s critics, among them board member Bobby Lydia, say he handcuffed the NAACP, getting involved only in safe issues that made him look good. They bemoan Watkins’s lack of involvement in serious city issues like school desegregation and last spring’s congressional hearings into alleged police insensitivities. The interests Watkins protects, critics say, are his own and those of his establishment friends.

As quickly as Watkins’s stock dwindled within the NAACP, so waned the minority community’s confidence in the organization’s effectiveness and credibility. One influential Dallas black ] businessman recently called Watkins a fake, and, earlier this | year, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price described Watkins’s leadership as lethargic.

To its credit, the organization has managed to eke out several significant contributions to its constituency. In October, the local chapter was lauded for its back-to-school program to help fight the high dropout rale among minority school students in the Dallas Independent School District. And a legal aid program staffed by SMU law students is progressing nicely.

As it stands now, however, the local NAACP lacks direction and confidence. Whether or not the charges against Watkins prove to be true, the national office obviously felt he should be the first casualty in a much-needed housecleaning to save the local organization from itself. But sources say Watkins is not the only cancer within the chapter, Local NAACP members can expect more surgery and treatment before the venerable organiza-tion sets its house in order.

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