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Sinatra Given L.A. NAACP Award Despite Rights Protest

May 15, 1987|LEONARD GREENWOOD and JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writers

Despite protests from civil rights leaders--and from a line of pickets outside the Century Plaza--entertainer Frank Sinatra accepted a controversial Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP on Thursday night.

Appearing late in the banquet program, and speaking from a dais shared with his daughter, Tina, and actor Gregory Peck, the singer called South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha "a bum," but denied that he had any need to clarify his position on apartheid.

"Those of you who know me," he said, "feel pretty secure about the way I think, the way I am. As far as anyone else is concerned, if my lifetime--more than half a century lived in the spotlight of public life--if those 50-plus years are not enough to show my covenant on the issue of civil rights, I am not going to waste my time . . . defending the obvious or itemizing a laundry list of my deeds to benefit the brotherhood of man.

Found Embarrassing

"Even saying this much embarrasses me."

Condemning South African racial policies, Sinatra, 71, also voiced criticism of his critics: "As for South Africa and the victims of its police state brutality and discrimination," he said, "I condemn that--but I also condemn those who in the name of fighting apartheid seek to divide not only blacks and whites but the blacks themselves."

Criticism of Sinatra, and of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People's Los Angeles chapter for honoring him, centered on the singer's 1981 concert in Sun City, South Africa, which detractors said indicated sympathy for that nation's apartheid racial policies.

Also honored at the banquet were Vivian McDonald, who received the Volunteer of the Year award; attorney Joseph Duff, receiving the Judge Thomas L. Griffith award; Maudine Clark and Alice Harris, who received the Community Service award, and Dave Robinson, accepting the John T. McDonald III Corporate Award for the Xerox Corp.

30 March Outside

Outside the hotel about 30 demonstrators marched quietly carrying signs with such messages as "Support the Struggle--Boycott This Show" and "Sinatra: Apartheid Activist" and "NAACP Honors Botha's Ambassador."

Even before the demonstration, there had been expressions of outrage both inside and outside the black community.

Dr. Benjamin Hooks, the NAACP's national executive director, publicly distanced himself.

"The award is being presented in the name of the Los Angeles branch--not the national NAACP," Hooks said.

National NAACP spokeswoman Sandra Adams offered further explanation. "We're not always in total agreement with each (NAACP) branch," she said. "Branches have the freedom to honor whom they want."

2 Honorees Withdraw

Two black leaders who had also been scheduled to receive awards at the banquet withdrew from the event when they heard that Sinatra would be honored.

Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said she had refused an award recognizing her support of U.S. divestment in South Africa because she would not share a stage with Sinatra. And Danny Bakewell of Cranston Securities, the first black man to head a Wall Street investment banking firm, wrote the chapter that "to honor Frank Sinatra is to dishonor the black community . . . I must reject acceptance of your award on the same platform with Frank Sinatra."

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