When the Prince George's County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held its first fundraiser in nearly four years last Saturday night, its guest list read like a Who's Who of powerful figures in Maryland.
Among the more than 300 people at the event, held at the Sheraton Inn in New Carrollton, were Lt. Gov. Samuel Bogley, state Attorney General Stephen Sachs, University of Maryland President John Toll, Board of Regents Chairman Peter O'Malley and Maryland State Teachers Association President Rufus Abernathy.
Many of the county's black leaders, and representatives from the County Council and state legislative delegation, came to help raise money for an organization that has seen its membership and influence grow tremendously in the past year.
By the end of the night, the association had collected nearly $7,000, much of which will be used to finance a county branch office scheduled to open in the late spring.
The star-studded guest list and the money raised at the affair were only two indicators of what appears to be a resurgence of the NAACP in Prince George's.
Perhaps a better barometer of change in the organization's fortunes is its membership roll. NAACP president Josie A. Bass said that the membership, which now stands at about 900, has more than tripled in the past year.
"We're beginning to build a reputation for doing our homework and for being willing to fight the tough battles," said Bass. "A lot of people have joined because the organization has gotten the ball rolling again and is addressing issues of interest to the black community."
Bass believes the NAACP membership rolls have grown because several controversies have galvanized black community interest in county affairs.
Disputes over County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan's nomination of a police chief and school board appointment of a citizen's advisory committee to study ways to reduce busing drew the most attention.
"We really got a big increase in membership after the Taylor incident," said Bass, referring to the successful NAACP and police union lobbying campaign last November to persuade the County Council to reject Hogan's nomination of James Taylor as police chief.
"Maybe 200 or 300 new people joined. Reform in the police department has always been high on the black community's agenda, and a lot of people appreciated the role the NAACP played in making sure a bad nominee wasn't selected for the job," she added.
Bass said membership also increased after the school board appointed a special committee to reduce busing. Now the NAACP is preparing a study of the county school board's success or failure in implementing court-ordered desegregation.
"We'll be meeting with our own lawyers and several from the (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund over the next two months to see if the school board has been in compliance with the court order," said Bass.
To further stimulate interest, the NAACP is working on several other projects, Bass said.
The chapter hopes in the coming months to get decisions on several police brutality cases it has brought to court on behalf of local citizens. "We may be able to resolve some of the disputes out of court," said Bass.
The organization also plans to support legislation now before the U.S. Congress that would tighten federal penalties for Ku Klux Klan violence and disturbances. Prince George's already is one of the few counties in Maryland with laws on the books against cross-burnings.
The NAACP would like to add new teeth to that law.
"We'd hope to get more support from the local police department in dealing with the Klan, but if they are not willing to help, I think the Justice Department and FBI would," Bass said.
She said the organization will attempt to do a study of the county executive's agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on low- and moderate-income housing in Prince George's.
"We'd like to do some research because it looks as if the executive is trying to keep low- and moderate-income familes out of the county," she said.
The NAACP also hopes to conduct a voter registration drive to improve the electoral chances of black candidates running for office.
"The black population has been growing steadily over the last 10 years and a lot of us feel that it's about time for the black community to fully exert its influence around here," Bass said.
Until a dispute over the amount of time she spent on NAACP and other local activities led to her resignation recently, Bass served as a top adviser to Gov. Harry Hughes.
She says she now hopes to devote more time to local chapter affairs and expects the NAACP to play a vital role in advancing the civil, economic and political rights of blacks in the county.
"A large part of the black community was lulled to sleep in the 70s but I believe people will soon begin to realize that the 80s will be far more difficult than anything we've seen in the past," she said. "Economic hard times are almost sure to hit, and when people start looking for scapegoats, they'll look to the black community.
"To deal with the situation, I think blacks will have to redefine their terms of survival, and I believe the NAACP has a major role to play in making that possible."