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Jackson And Chavis: Competitors Become Colleagues

April 14, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ben Chavis, the new head of the NAACP, and Jesse Jackson, who didn’t get the job, will sit elbow-to-elbow now in all the places where civil rights issues arise.

Both say publicly that, as black leaders with thick activist portfolios, they’ll get along just fine. But the contentious contest between them for the NAACP’s helm is still fresh.

In the narrow confines of the civil rights arena, discord between the two could stall work on pressing racial and ethnic problems. Both have talked about the need to attract young blacks to groups run by veterans of the 1960s desegregation struggles.

″There’s enough work for a division of labor,″ Chavis said in an interview. ″I do realize there is a need for healing. There are some wounds. I intend to not only be a team player, but a team builder. But I can’t project how long it will take.″

Jackson said he intends to work closely with Chavis. He agreed that their different approaches are alternate means to the same end.

″We need both the hands-on approach to touch the people, to feel their pulse, to know them. We must also have a policy route out,″ Jackson said. ″For someone to come onto the scene at the level he is now, with his energy and vitality and ideas, it is very good. We have an awful lot of work to do.″

Chavis was chosen last week to succeed Benjamin Hooks as executive director of the 84-year-old, 500,000-member National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Jackson, founder of the smaller, newer National Rainbow Coalition, initially sought the position, but changed his mind and dropped out of the running two days before Chavis was selected.

In the hours after the NAACP board chose Chavis, Jackson issued a statement congratulating him. But, Chavis said, he didn’t speak personally with Jackson.

″I’m receiving calls from all over the world, and I haven’t received one from him yet, to my knowledge,″ he said. ″He may have called.″

Jackson said he and Chavis have been ″back and forth over the phone″ a lot lately, and they plan to work together in South Central Los Angeles, which is tensely awaiting a verdict in the trial of the policemen who beat Rodney King.

″We communicate quite often,″ Jackson said. ″I want to - because I have over 20 years - work with him, collaborate with him, share experiences with him.″

Where Jackson is a maverick, Chavis is a team player. Where Jackson mobilizes, Chavis networks. While Jackson works from the outside, Chavis works from the inside.

″We can’t play them in terms of competition,″ said Chicago attorney Louis Myers, a friend of both men.

″No matter what people might think about Ben and Jesse, Ben will always be respectful of Jesse. Jesse himself will take the high road. I’m sure they’re going to talk. They’re going to work together. They complement each other. That’s what black America wants to see.″

The head of the NAACP’s search committee said that Jackson’s style just didn’t fit the organization, but that didn’t mean there was a rift between the organization and Jackson.

″I think we can continue to work on civil rights separately,″ said Franklin Breckenridge, an attorney who also heads the Indiana NAACP.

″One of the things the national board saw in my candidacy is my consistency,″ Chavis said. ″I haven’t been jumping around to all different kinds of things. I’m not a politician. My whole life has been in the movement, in the struggle. I’m still riding the same horse.″

A potential sore spot could be the NAACP’s board. Jackson had cited a proposed restructuring of NAACP power as the reason he left the NAACP race, but three board members said Jackson was scared off by concern over whether he could work amicably with the board.

″Jackson’s style, as indicated by history, represents a style that is unstructured, and we are a structured, policy-making, binding organization,″ said NAACP board member T.H. Poole. ″He does it best when he’s free to move as he directs.″

Also, Chavis must mend fences with some of the board’s New York members, many of whom had pushed either for Jackson or another candidate, New York executive Jewel Jackson McCabe.

″I’m not really privy to all the internal struggles that went on,″ Chavis said. ″But my style is consultive. My style is collaborative. There are 64 board members, and I’m going to be calling on them.″

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