Longtime activist Julian Bond was elected chairman of the NAACP Saturday, and he immediately pledged to raise the organization’s profile on civil rights issues.
“I want to make sure the NAACP’s voice is heard wherever race is discussed in this country,” Bond said. “I want it to be louder and stronger.”
Bond won a narrow victory over Joe Madison, a Washington talk show host. Madison, a longtime NAACP activist, is best known for his insistence that the Central Intelligence Agency played a role in funneling drugs into black neighborhoods.
The new chairman will preside over a 64-member board widely regarded as unwieldy at best and fractious at worst. The organization’s day-to-day activities are run by Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP’s president and the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Bond succeeds Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Evers-Williams is widely credited with restoring the NAACP’s financial health and public image. Mired in debt three years ago, the organization now boasts a $2 million surplus.
Nonetheless, critics complain that internal battles have left the organization little time or energy for playing a leadership role on civil rights. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also has been dogged for years by criticism that it is too conservative, too cautious, and politically out of touch with much of black America.
Bond dismissed that criticism Saturday night. He said he believes most Americans - black and white - support the group’s positions on such issues as affirmative action and added he hopes to build bridges between the NAACP and other ethnic groups.
“I think we are part of the majority - the moral majority,” he quipped.
Bond, 58, was one of the prodigies of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The scion of a prominent Atlanta family - his father, Horace Mann Bond, was president of Morehouse College - he was one of the first blacks elected to the Georgia Legislature and appeared to have an unlimited political future. He lost his seat to fellow activist John Lewis and disappeared from the scene.
He reemerged as an activist several years ago, helping to engineer EversWilliams’ election, and now teaches American history at American University and the University of Virginia. An NAACP activist for most of his life, he became much more active in recent years, serving as publisher of Crisis magazine, the NAACP journal founded by W.E.B. DuBois.
Mfume said he welcomes Bond’s leadership.
“I can’t tell you how delighted I am by the board selection,” he said after the vote. “Julian has earned this, and he’s up for it.”
All the same, the prospect of two charismatic and driven personalities at the helm of the same organization immediately prompted predictions of conflict.
“I think it shows that they wanted someone strong, someone who could speak with authority to the CEO,” said Ronald Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland. “It may mean there’s been a real change in the board.”