NAACP President Benjamin Jealous is stepping down

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous speaks at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington last month.
(Andre Chung / Baltimore Sun)

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, who has led the nation’s oldest civil rights organization for the last five years, announced Sunday that he would step down in December.

Jealous, whose term as president and chief executive of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People concludes Dec. 31, said in a statement released by the NAACP that he would pursue opportunities in higher education and spend more time with his family.

“I am proud to leave the association financially sound, sustainable, focused and more powerful than ever,” Jealous said.


The former Rhodes scholar also unveiled plans to start a political action committee, which he described to USA Today as an “EMILY’s List for people of color.” EMILY’s List campaigns to elect pro-choice Democratic women to public office, but Jealous reportedly said his political action committee would not tether itself to one political party.

Shortly after his resignation was announced, Jealous tweeted, “A good leader knows when to step up and when to step down.”

Jealous, a fifth-generation member of the NAACP, is credited with reviving the country’s largest civil rights organization and updating its strategy. Achievements during his five-year tenure include a $20-million increase in the organization’s budget, an eightfold increase in the number of donors and a more effective social media strategy, according to the NAACP.

But Jealous’ term was not without controversy. In 2010, when supposedly racist remarks made by Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod went viral, Jealous voiced condemnation and called for her resignation. When it turned out that Sherrod’s comments had been taken out of context - she was actually explaining how she had overcome racism to help a white farmer - Jealous and the NAACP were forced on the defensive and issued a retraction.

The chairwoman of the NAACP board of directors, Roslyn M. Brock, accepted Jealous’ resignation and, in the statement, praised his leadership.

No successor was announced, but Brock promised that the organization would continue the initiatives Jealous began.

After the fatal shooting of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, the NAACP began lobbying for passage of Trayvon’s Law, which would include elimination of racial profiling and repeal of “stand your ground” laws. More recently, the NAACP has campaigned to restore a section of the Voting Rights Act that was invalidated by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he had “mixed emotions” about Jealous’ departure.

In a statement issued on behalf of the National Action Network, Sharpton said, “Not only was he able to revive the NAACP and raise its budget to higher heights, he joined us in the streets in real civil rights activity on the ground.”


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Twitter: @MattHjourno