The stage was set yesterday for a major showdown on the NAACP board of directors as 45 of its 64 members said they will defy a directive of chairman Margaret Bush Wilson and will meet Saturday to action her sudden suspension of executive director Benjamin L. Hooks.
Shortly after the suspension one week ago, five key board members requested a special board meeting Saturday at the organization's national headquarters in Brooklyn.
On Monday, Wilson, working through acting executive director Thomas I. Atkins, called instead for a June 11 meeting outside Chicago and said that the call for Saturday's meeting should be disregarded.
Yesterday, however, the five key board members, joined by 40 others, announced in a telegram that they will meet and conduct official board business, including a possible vote on curbing Wilson's powers.
"We believe this meeting is legitimate and constitutional," said one of the five, the Rev. Edward A. Hailes, a national vice president and president of the District of Columbia NAACP.
"If there are some differences in that impression, they'll have to settle it otherwise, because we're going to act in accordance with our function as members of the board . . . ," Hailes said.
A spokesman for Wilson said that neither she nor Atkins will attend the meeting Saturday and that "nothing about that meeting will be official."
Board member Aaron Henry of Clarksdale, president of the 110-chapter Mississippi NAACP and one of the 40 who joined in calling for the meeting Saturday, said, "If I had sort of screwed up like Maggie has, I wouldn't want to show up either." "I love Maggie, and I love Ben," Henry said, "and I think that it's a situation where two people who were important powers in an organization had a disagreement . . . . I see egotism taking a position of paramount importance."
Henry said he thinks any action taken Saturday will be upheld at the national convertion in New Orleans in July. He said the board may vote Saturday to set limits on how long a chairman may serve.
Wilson, a St. Louis lawyer, has been chairman since 1975 and has stood for reelection each January.
Yesterday, during a news conference in New York on a Supreme Court ruling affecting segrated schools, she declined to answer questions about the feud.
"This is not a matter that I view as in the public domain," she said. "This had to do with organizational discipline. It has to do with professionalism. It has to do with institutional integrity, and it has to do with intelligent board responsibility."
Among signers of the telegram were board vice chairman Kelly M. Alexander Sr. of Charlotte, N.C., treasurer Jesse Turner Sr. of Memphis and state presidents John H. Gwynn of Illinois, Julian Bond of Georgia, Carl L. Breeding of Michigan and Dorothy L. Burch of Ohio.
Other prominent board members, included Atlanta Braves vice president Hank Aaron, former assistant labor secretary Ernest G. Green, New Orleans Mayor Ernest N. Morial and former United Auto Workers president Douglas A. Fraser.