As Benjamin L. Hooks and Margaret Bush Wilson and other NAACP leaders stood on a stage here Friday and announced two victories--a nationwide hiring agreement with 450 utility companies and a U.S. Supreme Court opinion affirming the NAACP's right to conduct economic boycotts--several thousand members leaped to their feet and began to shout.
The delegation from Mississippi, where the court case started in the mid-1960s, began to dance in the aisles, waving their arms and marching around the hall and onto the stage as the crowd began to sing the civil rights protest song "We Shall Not Be Moved," punctuated by Hooks at the microphone shouting, "The NAACP shall not be moved."
And, in a scene out of a Baptist revival, a minister began to thank God for the court decision, which has tied up NAACP finances for more than a decade. As people shouted "Amen!" and "Thank the Lord!", he prayed, "We're not going to let Martin Luther King down. We're not going to let down three boys who lost their lives in Mississippi . . . . We shall overcome."
After a week of discussions of the problems of black America--unemployment, President Reagan's budget cuts and a resurgence of overt racism--one leader said quietly, "Maybe bad times is good times for the NAACP."
As Joyce Burns of Texas put it, "Reagan's brought black people closer together."
By most accounts, the NAACP's 73rd annual convention was one of its most successful and upbeat.
Although the blacks who came to Boston--where single rooms were running $450 or more for the six nights--are not in the category of those hit hardest by Reaganomics, almost everyone here had a story about a friend or family member without work, and about racial hostilities they thought had been overcome years ago.
The convention came to two major conclusions: that the 450,000 members of the NAACP, scattered in 1,800 branches across the country, will work together not only to arrange boycotts of companies and industries that do not treat blacks fairly, but also to bring out the vote this year to defeat unsympathetic politicians.
Hooks pounded the podium and shouted to the delegates that he would like to beat every non-voter with a "green switch for as long as I can."
"We're going to send a message in November," he said. "Let some of those folk in Washington know what it's like to be unemployed."
Most of the rhetoric during the week was aimed at the Republican Party. Both Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former vice president Walter F. Mondale drew enthusiastic cheers and standing ovations as they lambasted the Reagan administration on its domestic policies.
But Margaret Bush Wilson, head of the NAACP national board of directors, said that Democrats who have strayed too close to the Reagan administration will also be targeted for defeat.
"You all know what a boll weevil is," she said, referring to the conservative House Democrats who have joined with Republicans to give Reagan his budget victories. "It's something with a snout-like head which becomes a worm and preys upon the labors of others.
"Once in the history of this country, the boll weevil threatened to wreck the economy of the South. The modern boll weevils . . . are dangerous to all, but especially dangerous to black Americans . . . . Let's stamp out boll weevils once and for all," she said, urging the delegates to "reward our friends and take care of those who are so unfriendly."
"It is terribly important that we send a message this year to the aggressor's troops . . . . The weapon is the ballot, hear me loud and clear . . . and this year we certainly have some big targets."
Joseph Madison, who is in charge of the NAACP's voting drive, has set a goal for the November elections of 1.5 million new registered black voters. He hopes to recruit 250,000 block captains nationwide to get out the black vote on Election Day. He said he plans to concentrate especially on the 18-to-24 age group where only two out of four blacks are registered and only one in four actually votes.
Willye Dennis, a delegate from Jacksonville, Fla., is already working with other black women in Florida to generate interest in the 1982 elections. But she is not just planning to vote. Dennis hopes to be the first black woman on the local school board.
Many people at the convention said Reagan's recent attempts to curry black favor--by agreeing to support the voting rights extension he had opposed for so long, and his visit the same day to a black Maryland family that had been the victims of a cross burning several years ago--have not really won him any points.
Speaking about the Voting Rights Act extension, which Reagan signed into law Tuesday, Wilson said, "I don't want you to have any illusions as to why it was passed. It was not anyone in this administration. It was people like you and me . . . . It is our triumph, not the president's."
Ben Andrews, an NAACP national board member from Hartford, Conn., said he personally does not believe Reagan is a racist, but he thinks there are other blacks who do not share his view. Andrews, a Republican who has previously run for Congress, said he is glad Reagan took those symbolic actions, even though it has not helped his standing with the black community.
"There were some people who were convinced that Ronald Reagan was such a racist he wouldn't want to be in the presence of a black person--that it would be alien to his pores. I think those people appreciated the visit," he said. "But then when he went on TV and said he didn't know there were still any segregated schools, I think that did it for everyone."
Andrews said, "Traditionally, the NAACP has had ties to previous administrations, people that we could go to. But not now . . . .
"We're just now coming to a posture more appropriate to dealing with this administration. The Reagan administration has to be approached as if we're dealing with a foreign country. We'll have to send ambassadors to negotiate for what we want."