The NAACP replaced veteran chairman William Gibson with Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, on Saturday after agitated rank-and-file members declared no confidence in Gibson's leadership.

"It is indeed an emotional time for me. But I can't be emotional for too long," Evers-Williams said. "We have too much work to do. It is time to heal our wounds."An early priority, she said, will be to get the NAACP's voice back into the national civil rights debate on "dangerous" signals from the new Republican-controlled Congress and Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

"With this new beginning, we will be able to address what they are doing in Washington," Evers-Williams said. "We will be able to make Newt old!"

Gibson was defeated on a 30-29 vote less than two hours after the board of directors went into a closed session and about three hours earlier than anticipated. "Never say `my one vote does not count,' because indeed it does," Evers-Williams said.

She was greeted by about 200 chanting, singing supporters, mostly women, who cried "Myrlie! Myrlie!" and sang "We Have Overcome!" as she and National President Rupert Richardson - a Gibson loyalist - embraced and called for unity.

About 300 rank-and-file NAACP members sat in on the session, singing civil rights songs, and refused to leave the room when Gibson attempted to restrict the gathering to board members.

Gibson was unavailable for comment. Evers-Williams did not take questions, but scheduled a news conference Sunday.

"This vote today has so much significance for those of us in the struggle," said C. Delores Tucker, an NAACP trustee from Washington, D.C., who attended the meeting, but not as a voting board member. "When you speak in unity and strength against wrongdoing, you can make a difference," she said.

Hugh B. Price, president of the Urban League, also praised the election of Evers-Williams, saying it "sends the message that the organization is now ready to recapture its vital role in our society."

It was not known who cast the deciding vote on the 64-member board.

A point of contention before the meeting was whether newly elected board members would be seated before the election, as has been done in years past.

Three of the new board members were vocal opponents of Gibson and ardent supporters of Evers-Williams.

Gibson, a dentist from Greenville, S.C., had been accused of taking thousands of dollars from the civil rights group he has led for a decade.

Evers-Williams is the widow of the NAACP field organizer who was slain in Jackson, Miss., in 1963.

"I am here because I love the NAACP. I believe it must survive. I believe it must thrive," said Evers-Williams, the board's vice president, said before the vote. "Duty beckons me. I am strong. Test me and you will see."

In a letter to the board Feb. 13, Gibson angrily refused to step aside, and cast himself as a victim of "scurrilous personal attacks" by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carl Rowan.

Rowan has written a number of columns accusing Gibson of "double-dipping" on his NAACP expense accounts, taking $24,000 meant for the South Carolina NAACP and running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges for limousines, hotel suites and an expensive briefcase.

"I will not slip off into the night when my name, and the organization I love, are under attack," Gibson wrote.

Gibson's critics latched onto the alleged misuse of funds as an example of poor financial decisions under his leadership that created a $3 million debt for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

About 700 NAACP members passed a no-confidence resolution by an unrecorded vote before the board meeting. Fewer than a dozen members opposed the resolution.

The rank-and-file members made clear that they not only wanted Gibson out, they also wanted to clear out virtually all of the NAACP's 64 directors. The vote had no binding effect on the board.

View Comments

Board members were briefed Friday on an audit of officers' expenses - particularly Gibson's - by the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand.

The audit was ordered by Gibson following the ouster of Executive Director Benjamin Chavis last fall. Gibson's critics have accused him of trying to scuttle the audit until after Saturday's election, out of fear that it would reveal damaging information about him.

Some NAACP activists said privately that Gibson, with his plain presence and rural speech, has not presented the proper image for the chairman of the nation's premier civil rights group.

They preferred a more savvy, polished leader. Evers-Williams is glib and professional. She once served as a public works commissioner in Los Angeles, overseeing a $400 million budget and 6,000 employees.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.