Facing a crisis in the schooling of black children, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume called Saturday for a broad discussion of educational reform at the civil rights group’s 88th annual convention.
Citing factors such as law schools in California and Texas where the numbers of black students have dropped dramatically because of bans on racial preferences, and inner-city classrooms where children can’t read, Mfume expressed a growing frustration among blacks about educational opportunity.
He said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which will discuss busing for desegregation, vouchers, state takeovers of urban districts and other education issues at its convention here this week, must help find solutions to the crisis.
“We believe the NAACP is big enough to be able to hear all its members and bright enough to put ideas on the table to develop a new consensus,” Mfume said.
Both Mfume and Chairman Myrlie Evers-Williams said the NAACP was not abandoning its historic support of integration by questioning, for example, whether busing for desegregation was useful in all cases.
“There is no new story, we are doing what we always have done, and our position (regarding integration) remains the same,” said Evers-Williams, who was criticized after a report suggested NAACP support for school integration was wavering.
The education debate is a sign of the NAACP’s improved health. Recent conventions have focused on leadership and financial crises, to the detriment of debate on issues that affect the nation’s 34 million blacks.
But the NAACP has overhauled its leadership during the past two years and wiped out a $3.2 million debt.
Mfume called on President Clinton, who will address the convention Thursday, to enforce existing civil rights laws and to order an inquiry into the decline in admissions of minority applicants to the California and Texas schools, to “make sure people’s rights are not being infringed upon.”
The education discussion also shows an apparent new openness in the nation’s oldest civil rights group, where dissent sometimes has been greeted with hoots and catcalls at recent conventions.
“We believe that stifling discussion limits our ability as an organization to lead,” Mfume said.