There's Trouble in Civil Rights Land By Joseph Perkins, San Diego Union-Tribune December 3, 2004 Kweisi Mfume stepped down this week as president of the once-venerated NAACP. Meanwhile, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth resigned last month as president of the once-respected Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Mfume's official explanation of his unexpected departure is that he wants to spend more time with his family. But the unofficial explanation is that he hasn't gotten along with Julian Bond, the NAACP's board chair. Shuttlesworth made no pretense of harmony with his SCLC board. "For years," he wrote in a statement explaining his not-unexpected departure, "deceit, mistrust and a lack of spiritual discipline and truth have eaten at the core of this once-hallowed organization." In fact, the SCLC and the NAACP are mere shadows of the organizations they were a generation ago when they were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, when the former was headed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the latter by Roy Wilkins. In 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement, the SCLC boasted tens of thousands of members, the NAACP nearly a half million members. Since then, both organizations have steadily declined in membership, even as the black population has nearly doubled. The reason for the membership decline is that both organizations are now quite different from what they were four decades ago. Back then, the SCLC and NAACP were authentic civil rights organizations fighting for equal treatment of America's darker-skinned citizens. Their portfolio included school desegregation, voting rights, fair housing and equal accommodations. Today, the SCLC and NAACP are little more than political organizations, sold-out subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. The IRS should have required them to register as 527 organizations, so bent were they this past election year on turning George W. Bush out of office. The leaders of the SCLC and NAACP refuse to accept that some blacks are not dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. In fact, more than 1 million blacks voted last month to re-elect Bush. And even blacks who did not cast their ballots for Bush do not disagree with the Republican on each and every issue, like the leaders of the SCLC and the NAACP. Indeed, two-thirds of blacks favor school vouchers, according to a Newsweek poll. Nearly two-thirds oppose same-sex marriage, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. And more than half support Social Security personal accounts, according to Zogby poll. Of course, to be black and Republican is to be a traitor to the race, the way the SCLC and the NAACP see it. To espouse non-liberal, non-Democrat views on issues is to be in league with the devil, according to the two civil rights organizations. Under their present leadership, the SCLC and the NAACP are no longer the advocacy organizations they were under King and Wilkins. They have transmogrified in recent years into hate groups. Indeed, earlier this year, the president went to Atlanta simply to pay his respects to the late Rev. King's family on the 75th anniversary of the slain civil right leader's birth. The SCLC responded with an official statement casting aspersions upon Bush for "the timing of (his) decision to visit" King's memorial site, and questioning "the integrity of Bush's decision to lay a wreath" on King's crypt. The NAACP was no less hostile to Bush this year. Bond condemned the president as the leader of a party that appeals "to the dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality." But how dare the SCLC impugn Bush's integrity when its chairman, the Rev. Raleigh Trammel, is anything but a model of moral rectitude, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported. The pastor with a past has done prison time for defrauding a welfare agency. He has a judgment against him for sexual harassment. And he has had numerous foreclosure proceedings against properties he owns or co-owns. How dare Bond talk about the president appealing to a dark underside given the baggage he brought to the NAACP. Indeed, one year before he was elected the organization's board chair, Bond's wife told police he was a daily cocaine user and that he was consorting with a woman of ill repute. Mfume's departure from the NAACP, Shuttlesworth's resignation from the SCLC will do little to reverse the decline of the once-revered, once-respected civil rights organizations. They need a new generation of leaders who can rise above political partisanship, who can do business not only with Democrats, but also with Republicans. Leaders who truly subscribe to the dictum, famously enunciated by the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, later adapted by King, Wilkins and other giants of the civil rights movement: No permanent friends. No permanent enemies. Only permanent interests. Perkins[who is a black columnist] can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.