The Prince George's County NAACP has received a first-time-ever grant from the national NAACP to mount active voter registration campaign this fall.
Josie Bass, president of the Princes George's chapter, said the $6,700 grant would enable the group to move from its present quarters, in Bass's home, to an office, at least for the duration of the election campaign. It will be the first time in four years that the chapter has had an office.
The national NAACP plans to spend more than $500,000 this year -- three times last year's budget -- to register an additional 12 million black voters. The funds for Prince George's are part of the $30,000 allocated to the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches to target unregistered black voters in Prince George's and Baltimore counties and the Eastern Shore.
The deadline for registration in Prince George's is Oct. 6.
The national drive, dubbed Operation Voter Identification will entice new voters with "voter registration discos" that require only a registration card for admission, public service announcements in the top televison markets featuring such stars as Aretha Franklin and Robert Guillaume and other innovative techniques.
"We felt that black folks could play a bigger role than they had last year, said national NAACP official Joe Madison of the effort to add to the 6 million black votes cast in 1979. Madison ran a successful 1978 registration effort in Philadelphia, using a caravan of 500 cars to get out the vote. The effort helped block former mayor Frank Rizzo's bid for a second term.
The campaign is non-partisan but will focus on educating voters on the issues that effect the black community. The Prince George's chapter will not use the more exotic methods that the national campaign will employ in other cities, according to Bass. Much of the local money will be used to print literature explaining the issues and getting voters to the polls.
"We're placing particular emphasis on the questions dealing with the number of people on the County Council," said Bass, referring to proposed charter amendments, one of which would end at-large voting for council members, which the organization has said would dilute black representation on the Council.
The funds also come at a time when two black candidates are running for the school board. The NAACP has no precise figures on the number of potential new voters in the county, but has set a goal of 5,00-8,000 registrations.
According to Bass the county NAACP is in the second year of a renaissance following a low point in vigor and membership reached in early 1979. Since then the membership has tripled to about 1,000 members, many of them young people.
"We've had an infusion of new blood and ideas. We've been able to recruit young people as well as older people who've not been active before," said Bass.
In the spring of 1979 the chapter drew national attention because of a controversial agreement signed by former president William Martin to limit busing in the Prince George's public schools. The agreement was reached without the knowledge of the chapter executive committee. Martin was removed from his position as a result and Bass took over as president.
"Our membership began to turn around after that. We threw out the welcome mat," said Bass. "White people are coming back to us, and we like that," she added, referring to new coalitions with white community groups. While the new funds are strictly for the voter drive, she hopes that other funds will be raised within the chapter to sustain the office, which is expected to open next week near Landover Mall.
There's a basic understanding now that we must all live together in Prince George's, particularly with the resurgence of the (Ku Klux) Klan. Businesses, black, white, green or whatever don't want to move here as long as there are negative things going on here," said Bass.
The Montgomery County chapter of the NAACP is not receiving any of the national grant but has already begun a voter registration . and education program using volounteers, according to Norman R. Seay, chapter president.