Shinhoster, Earl c. 1950–2000
Earl Shinhoster c. 1950-2000
As a senior in high school, Earl Shinhoster dreamed of being a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He followed his dream and served the NAACP for over three decades. After having been passed over for the permanent position, Shinhoster was named interim director of the internally and financially troubled civil rights organization in 1994. Though Shinhoster is credited with having restored some order to the NAACP, he was passed over again for the permanent top spot, and left the organization pursue his own international trading business. Just shy of his fiftieth birthday, Shinhoster died in an accident in a Ford Explorer with Firestone tires, a car-tire combination that was shrouded in controversy for its poor safety record. “He was dedicated and committed to civil rights,” a friend of Shinhoster’s from the NAACP said after his death. “He was not afraid to step out there and do the right thing.”
Shinhoster grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and traced his African-American heritage by wandering old, local cemeteries. As a member of the NAACP’s Savannah branch youth council, he folded envelopes, participated in sit-ins, and rallied picket lines. He became council president at age 16. He was involved with the NAACP during crucial times, during the highs and lows of the civil rights movement. “I was there—at the height of the civil rights movement through the assassination of Martin Luther King,” Shinhoster remembered in Crisis, an NAACP publication. He continued, “I came along at a time when the quest for freedom was everywhere. I was 13 at a time of demonstrations, sit-ins … and the NAACP was the vehicle in which my yearning for involvement took shape.”
Though his parents focused their attentions more on the church than on the civil rights movement, they supported Shinhoster’s aspirations. He graduated from Savannah’s public schools in 1968, and in his senior high school memory book, Shinhoster wrote that he dreamed of growing up to be a lawyer for the NAACP. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College in 1972 and earned his law degree from Cleveland State University College of Law.
Shinhoster first volunteered his legal services to the NAACP while in Cleveland. He continued volunteering
At a Glance…
Born c. 1950, in Savannah, GA; died June 11, 2000; married Ruby Dallas, c. 1969; children: Michael. Education: Morehouse College, bachelor’s degree in political science, 1972; Cleveland State University College of Law, J.D.
Career: Civil rights leader. NAACP, volunteer, southeast regional director, national field secretary, interim executive director, 1994–95; National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, field director, 1996; Georgia Secretary of State’s office, coordinator of voter education, c. 1996–00; founded Shinhoster Group Ltd.
when he returned to Atlanta, and parlayed that into a staff position as southeast regional director, a position he would hold for 17 years. In 1975 Shinhoster was named director of the Office of Human Affairs by Georgia Governor George Busbee, who charged him with the task of reducing employment discrimination.
When Executive Director Benjamin Hooks retired in 1993 after 15 years, amid criticism that the NAACP had fallen out of touch under his leadership, Shinhoster was on the short list to replace him. Benjamin F. Chavis was chosen instead, and Shinhoster kept his position as national field secretary. Chavis came on strong, promising massive change within the financially and internally troubled organization, which was engulfed in negative media attention.
In 1994, less than two years after having been passed over for the NAACP’s top spot, Shinhoster was named interim director of the organization in 1994 when Chavis was fired. Shinhoster took over the day-to-day management of the NAACP’s Baltimore, Maryland headquarters and its national staff members. He served as chief spokesman for the association, which was often an unpleasant position to be in, considering the troubled state of the organization he inherited. Under Shinhoster, the NAACP continued to flounder, its finances in a free fall after the discovery that Chavis had committed &332,000 in NAACP funds to settle a sexual discrimination claim filed against him by a former female employee. After a thorough accounting, the organization discovered alleged overspending on travel expenses by board Chairman William F. Gibson, and disclosed that it had accrued &3.8 million in debt. Regular contributors like the Ford and Carnegie foundations and others were scared off.
Shinhoster came up with an, according to the Washington Post, “austerity plan” designed to retire the debt through an extensive program of fund-raising, furloughs, and layoffs throughout the NAACP network. Corporate sponsors were asked to resume contributions and over 2, 200 NAACP branches and other organizations were asked to donate &1,000 apiece. Shinhoster and the NAACP were criticized throughout the ordeal for being slow to inform the public and its employees, and the furloughed employees filed a suit through their union. Though the problem was Shinhoster’s to deal with, court depositions showed that the NAACP had habitually operated in the red—Chairman Williams was accused of shrouding the NAACP’s finances in such secrecy that trustees could not trace where millions of dollars had gone. Shinhoster announced that, while the NAACP was taking in &13,000 per day, it was spending &45,000 daily in operating costs.
Dealing with the NAACP’s financial woes was a serious sidetrack for Shinhoster, who would have preferred to focus on the group’s civil rights mission. Instead of fighting for racial justice and equality, Shinhoster spent his time and energy trying to resolve the NAACP’s internal problems, “so we can live to fight another day,” he was quoted as saying in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1995. All the while, Shinhoster knew he was only in the top spot temporarily. “If they don’t solve some of these real serious organizational problems we have,” one chapter president told the Journal-Constitution, “it won’t matter who runs the organization.” During Shinhoster’s tenure, the NAACP erased over &1 million in debt from its books, and membership grew from 600,000 to nearly one million. According to writer Jamie Stockwell in the Washington Post, “Shinhoster has been credited with steadying the organization and easing the financial crisis and political infighting that threatened to cripple it.”
Though he was widely seen as a front-runner for the permanent post, Shinhoster was passed over to head the NAACP yet again in December of 1995, when the organization’s search committee chose Kweisi Mfume from outside the NAACP. The interim position was only supposed to last 30 to 60 days, but Shinhoster had run the NAACP for a year. Though he refused to comment extensively, Shinhoster left the deciding board meeting and said, according the Journal-Constitution, “I think you know what the story is.”
When Shinhoster left Baltimore, he “had no game plan,” according to the Journal-Constitution. “I had to look at what I’d done and what I wanted to do and build around that,” he said in an interview with the Journal-Constitution. He was hired as field director for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and lived in Ghana, in west Africa, for six months. He then returned to Atlanta and threw his energy into a job as a coordinator of voter education for Georgia’s Secretary of State’s office. There, he developed a program to increase voter participation. He was effective in the position—the November of 1996 election drew the highest voter turnout in a non-presidential midterm election year in Georgia’s history.
Shinhoster left the Secretary of State’s office to dedicate himself full time to Shinhoster Group Ltd., a management consulting firm he started that specialized in international trade and imported African clothing and crafts. The company also provided motivational speakers, organized conferences and special events, and worked with a local bank to help low-and moderate-income families secure education and housing loans.
In 2000 Shinhoster was asked to escort the first lady of Liberia during her trip to the United States. On June 11, 2000, he was a passenger in a Ford Explorer bringing up the rear of a seven-car caravan led by Alabama state troopers when a Firestone tire on the Explorer blew out. The sport-utility vehicle went out of control, rolled three times, and crashed into a tree. It took two hours for rescuers to extract him from the vehicle, and he died soon after he was freed. The recall of Firestone-Ford tires for tread-separation in a number of similar incidents was by then an international concern. A year after his death, a coalition of 13 civil rights organizations held a press conference honoring Shinhoster and asking the Ford Motor Company to, according to PR Newswire, “make it right” with the African-American community.
Civil rights leaders nationwide were struck by Shinhoster’s death. “Earl was one of the NAACP leaders who made this organization work,” NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said in a press release, according to the Journal-Constitution. “He was part of the NAACP family for all of his adult life and he will surely be missed.” Dr. Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the Journal-Constitution, “He was in my opinion one of the steadfast soldiers of the movement …. he was effective and dedicated as one of the strongest advocates for justice. It’s a tragic loss to the movement.” His loss was felt in the U.S. capitol, as well. “He was so energetic, so engaging, dedicated and committed,” U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta) said in the Journal-Constitution. “It is a tremendous loss for the movement for social justice, a loss for the state, and a loss for the nation.”
Though his road with the NAACP was long and rocky, Shinhoster never lost hold of his vision. “As we approach this new millennium, with all its uncertainties and fears,” he said in an interview with Marianne Jaskevich of the Journal-Constitution, “let us seek new ways of communicating with each other. Breaking down the barriers, accepting each other as distinct human beings first is the challenge.” Shinhoster was survived by Ruby, his wife of 31 years, and their 13-year-old son.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 12th ed., Gale Group, 1998.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 12, 1995, p. A5; December 10, 1995, p. Al; January 7, 1999, p. JA1; June 12, 2000, p. B1; June 13, 2000, p. A18 and C6.
Crisis, July 1995, p. 24.
Jet, September 5, 1994, p. 8.
New York Times, November 3, 1994, p. A3; November 12, 1994, p. A3; June 14, 2000, p. B14.
PR Newswire, July 9, 2001.
USA Today, May 5, 1993, p. 1A.
Washington Post, June 12, 2000, p. A22; October 8, 2000, p. B1.
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