Keith Clayborne in Black and White

Keith Clayborne maneuvers his red Ford Mustang along Sistrunk Boulevard in a pouring rain. His headlights dance ahead of the car, revealing the dark doorways of tiny strip malls and rundown buildings. They splash off a liquor store, a funeral parlor, and a tattoo shop, then slow to linger on a six-foot-high fence.

Clayborne eases the Mustang through an open gate in the chainlink, which surrounds the two-story building dominating a corner of 14th Street in Fort Lauderdale. He climbs out of the car and walks into the ground floor of the Broward County NAACP office.

The ride into central Fort Lauderdale from his plush Coral Springs home irritates Clayborne as always. Sistrunk Boulevard, although greened with trees and grass, remains almost as destitute as it appeared when he printed the first issue of The Broward Times out of a local copy shop a decade ago.

"It's about expectations," he complains, "and black folks don't have high-enough expectations. Our leaders have done nothing to change that."

Inside the NAACP building, the 48-year-old former New York Times Company executive brushes the raindrops off his black-and-tan houndstooth sports jacket. Underneath he wears a black knit golf shirt and creased dress trousers. A three-point silk handkerchief peeks from the pocket of the jacket, a natty touch of style that Clayborne is never lacking. He climbs a set of stairs and strides into the meeting hall.

The crowd grows still. Clayborne looks to the front, past almost 100 visitors, and eyes the most recent high-profile target of The Broward Times' weekly editorial broadsides: Roosevelt Walters, who clutches a microphone and addresses the assembled members and visitors like a man speaking to children, almost sweetly.

Walters announces he will step down after 12 years as president of Broward's NAACP for a couple of reasons. First, he is tired. Second? "Ten or twelve people are against me," he declares. "There's a lot of writing about me living rent-free on Las Olas Boulevard."

Everyone here knows Walters has just pointed to Clayborne. In the September 22 issue of the Times, Clayborne broke a story that Walters was paying nothing to live in a Las Olas Boulevard house previously owned by a late admirer of the NAACP. At her death the woman donated the $250,000 home to the association. In another article Clayborne also accused Walters of "racial extortion" after discovering that the NAACP president ferried discrimination complainants to a paralegal, who filed many lawsuits for millions of dollars, then "extracted" donations for the NAACP from lawyers and employers. The newsman spotlighted Walters with a front-page opinion piece calling for Walters' resignation. Within three days the Sun-Sentinel echoed the news stories and followed with its own editorial.

Clayborne's articles were bad enough. The "white" press picking up on the story sparked a fight among black community activists traditionally unused to going public with their disagreements; most of those gathered at the NAACP meeting are staunch Walters supporters.

Facing the crowd, Walters admits he lived in a room in the house and promises to send a check to national NAACP headquarters to cover the rent. But he insists that he also paid thousands for house maintenance and that he has the receipts to prove it. (Walters doesn't address Clayborne's other allegations.)

"To be accused of living rent-free is simply someone who didn't get the story right. So Mr. Newsman," Walters calls to Clayborne, punching the key words, "if you want to see [the receipts], I'll show 'em to you."

"Show 'em to me," Clayborne challenges.

Hisses shower Clayborne, and one man shouts at him: "He's right, brother, I was there."

A smiling Walters continues, "For more than two years now, there has been an attack on me.... I have received many cards of late, letters of late, threats against my family. They know it doesn't do any good with me, because I've been threatened for years." The audience simultaneously cheers Walters and growls at his nominally anonymous antagonist. "And there is one common thread between three of the death threats," Walters continues, his voice rising in anger, "a single word that has appeared in hate mail and news articles."

Hoots rise briefly. The crowd waits to hear the magic word, but Walters leaves his audience hanging. Federal authorities, he says, will begin looking into the threats the next morning; they will study the word.

Clayborne has just been accused of threatening the life of a local official of the NAACP. He looks at the floor. Reporters for both the Sun-Sentinel and The Miami Herald, validating the notion in the black community that the white press doesn't care about it, miss this moment, arriving shortly afterward. By the time the meeting concludes at 9 p.m., the membership has occupied itself with such dry parliamentary matters as the nomination of new candidates for branch president, vice presidents, and secretary. (Walters did not return repeated phone calls from New Times seeking comment for this story.)

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Roger Williams