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National Urban League Should Break with Tradition, Hire Woman

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By. George E. Curry

Eight years ago, the National Urban League took a chance by hiring Hugh B. Price, a person unknown in the national civil rights community, to be its new president.

Price is stepping down and the league has a wonderful opportunity to again break with tradition—by hiring a woman to succeed Price.
I didn’t say consider hiring a woman. I say do it. How many times have we seen African-Americans “considered” for a job opening or go through the phony job postings, only to later learn that the fix was already in? So, let’s skip the charade and go directly to the point.
Hiring a woman as head of the Urban League would represent a bold and refreshing change in civil rights leadership. I am not saying hire any woman. There are more than enough capable females who could run the National Urban League at least as well as the men running the NAACP, Rainbow/PUSH or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And that’s on their bad days.
I don’t have to name all the high-profile Black women who immediately come to mind for this opening. All of them should be considered, but the search shouldn’t stop there. Fortunately, women run or have managed numerous professional groups, including the National Bar Association, the National Medical Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Black MBA Association, the National Dental Association, the Association of Black Sociologists and the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.
However, it’s a different story when it comes to sharing power in our civil rights organizations. In some respects, Black men don’t treat Black women any better than Whites treat them.
In its 92-year history, the National Urban League has never had a Black woman as its head. The NAACP, a year older, has had Black women serve as president (Rupert Richardson) and board chair (Margaret Bush Wilson), but has never had a woman serve as it chief spokesperson, a position that was called executive director until Kweisi Mfume assumed his present position as president and CEO.
Rev. Willie Barrow has served as board chair of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Although he is listed as president, Jackson remains firmly in charge of the organization he founded.
If the civil rights community refuses to have women as the head of their organizations, they will only be postponing the inevitable. Visit any college campus and you will see that there are more Black women on campus than African-American men. Attend most of our professional conventions, such as the Black MBAs, and observe the paucity of men.
It’s only a matter of time—if it hasn’t happened already—that when a person of our race is selected solely on merit, in many instances, that will be a sister. Not because of any gender superiority, but because they have applied themselves. And it’s going to get worse if we don’t divert more of our young men from the growing prison-industrial complex.
As lethargic as some of our recent leaders have been, we should welcome new faces and new ideas. As Hugh Price demonstrated during his tenure, the solution to every problem facing us can’t be effectively addressed by calling a press conference or organizing a march. And on some issues, such as academic achievement, the work must be done away from the glare of television cameras.
Women have always been a part of struggle. Among them: Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hammer and Angela Davis.
It’s an inspiration to see Dorothy Height of the National Council on Negro Women still on the scene today. No one can argue about the success of Elaine Jones at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the work of Ramona H. Edelin when she headed the National Urban Coalition. Women also have proven themselves in the corporate world, including Cathy Hughes, chair and founder of Radio One; Ann Fudge, former head of Kraft’s Maxwell House and Post cereal divisions; Ingrid Saunders Jones, senior vice president of the Coca-Cola Co. and president of the Coca-Cola Foundation; and Pamela Thomas-Graham, president and CEO of CNBC television network.
Mary Frances Berry, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, have brilliant minds and have a long history of fighting for our causes. They also have remained in the background as they have supported some national civil rights leaders, lending their support out of public view.
It’s no longer acceptable for our women leaders to remain in the background or suppress their leadership skills. This is not a matter of emasculating men. It’s a matter of seeking the best talent available, regardless of where it may be. If a woman is a better leader than a man, then so be it. We all stand to benefit.

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