An unprecedented black leadership summit opens Sunday in the shadow of debate generated by one of its participants, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Officially, the NAACP wouldn't release a list of conference participants until the summit actually begins.But organizers expected Farrakhan, whose messages of black self-help are mixed with anti-Semitism, to be among the more than 80 activists attending.
The summit is aimed at developing ways to improve the morals, economic standing and political clout of the black community. A broad spectrum of black business, academic, political, religious and civic leaders have been invited.
"The people are excited because it is bringing together people who would not normally sit across the table from each other," said the Rev. Frank M. Reid III.
"What we hope to come out of this is to, one, lay the foundation for future programs that we can agree to work on together," said Reid, whose Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church will host a summit community meeting Sunday. "Lay the foundation. One cannot in three or four days come up with concrete answers to help all black people."
The Baltimore meeting grew out of a "unity pledge" taken last fall by NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Chavis, Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The inclusion of Farrakhan has irritated some Jewish activists. National Jewish leaders said they would protest Farrakhan's appearance outside the headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"The NAACP has always stood against bigotry and racism. It is tragic to see your group now embrace Louis Farrakhan, who is anti-Jewish and a bigot," Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, wrote Chavis.