"It's a crying shame," the cabbie said. "I mean, arguing, suing, wasting money over who's going to be called what. Reminds you of 'Amos and Andy.' "

"What on Earth has you so exercised this morning," I asked.

"Haven't you seen the papers?" he said. "The NAACP is suing the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to make the fund stop using the name NAACP. I think it's the dumbest, most disheartening thing I ever heard of, plus it's a waste of money."

"Have you contributed to the Defense Fund?" I asked.

"Not that I know of," he said.

"Are you a financial supporter of the NAACP" I asked.

"No," he said.

"Then, it doesn't appear to me that the 'waste of money' is any major concern of yours," I said. "Now as to your characterization of the lawsuit as 'dumb,' it so happens that I have just left a press conference where the NAACP leadership explained the whole thing. You ought to understand that until 1939, there was no Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The NAACP board created it to be its tax-exempt arm to handle its legal battles. Later on, congressional enemies of black progress started hounding the organization, threatening to take away its tax-exempt status unless the LDF completely split from the NAACP. That happened in 1957, and since then the two have been totally separate."

"And the NAACP just found out in 1982 that that wasn't a good idea?" the cabbie asked.

"Don't be snide," I said. "They just want the LDF to come home."

"But you just explained to me that the NAACP drove them out of the house in the first place so they could have what you call tax-exempt status. If they come back now, seems to me they'd have the same problem all over again."

It was an intelligent assumption, and I told him so. I also told him that it was wrong, since, a year and a half ago, the NAACP got its own tax-exempt status and no longer needs the LDF as a separate entity.

"I dig it," the cabbie said. "But if the 1957 split made them two completely separate organizations, it seems to me that the NAACP can't tell the LDF what to call itself. Looks to me like they are hoist on their own patrol."

"Petard," I said. "If you are going to $100 expressions, at least get them right."

"Well, excuse the hell out of me," the cabbie said. "Anyway, even if what you say is true, I don't quite see what the problem is. Is the NAACP Legal Defense Fund doing something the NAACP doesn't agree with?"

"Yes," I said, "They're using the name NAACP."

"You know what I mean. Is the LDF against busing? Is it against fair employment? Does it support Ronald Reagan?"

I told him I didn't think so. The problem, I said, is that the use of the name is misleading. The LDF is basically a public-interest law firm, while the NAACP is a 450,000- member organization, with its policies, programs and priorities set by the people.

"Then why doesn't the NAACP just starve them out financially?" the cabbie said. "After all, with damn near a half- million members they ought to have the upper hand in fund raising. How much cash do they take in?"

"The NAACP budget is $7-8 million, half of that from the membership."

"And the LDF?"

"About $6 million a year."

"Now I understand," the cabbie said. "The NAACP wants the contributions that have been going to the LDF, right?"

"Wrong. Money is a minor part of it. The central point is to protect the organization's proud heritage. Of course, they could use the extra money in these tough economic times. In fact, things are so tight, they are talking about moving the national headquarters from New York to Washington to save money."

"Well, there's your solution," the cabbie said.

"How does moving to Washington solve the problem of what to do about the name?" I said.

"Considering that all this squabbling sounds like a fight between Calhoun and the Kingfish, they could call themselves the Mystic Knights of D.C."