Barber, Spearman stand with NAACP women against harassmentBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / September 26, 2019
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RALEIGH – The former longtime president of the N.C. NAACP has issued a statement saying that he “stands” with the “integrity-filled women elders” of the state chapter of the nation’s oldest civil rights movement in their demand to have a member accused of sexual harassment removed from the organization.The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, currently the co-chair of The Poor People’s Campaign, issued his statement after the “Elder Women of the North Carolina NAACP,” held a press conference Sept. 18 at Trinity AME Zion Church in Greensboro, vowed that “…we can no longer stand in the shadows,” noting that many of them have been victims of past sexual harassment themselves.
Allegations stem from an incident two years ago, when a then unnamed supervisor in the state NAACP office was accused of sexual harassment by a young female field organizer. Rev. Barber, who was president at the time, had the accusation fully investigated by an employment attorney and law professor, and, after a five-month probe, confirmed it. That was enough to have the supervisor fired, but he was still an NAACP member.
During a Wednesday press conference in Raleigh, accuser Jazmyne Childs named Rev. Curtis Gatewood as the individual who committed the sexual harassment against her. Gatewood is the former president of the Durham NAACP. He is now running for president of the N.C. NAACP against current NAACP President Reverend Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, who is seeking a second term. That election will take place during the civil right’s organization’s state conference in Winston Salem, Oct. 5.
In a call by The Peacemaker placed to Spearman regarding this case, the N.C. NAACP President said, “I stand with the women. The voice and sentiment of the independent group within the N.C. NAACP is one that needs to be heard. In this ‘Me Too’ era, we must be forthcoming and follow-up on any allegations of sexual harassment.”Spearman added, “Although their press conference (Wed., Sept. 18) has been characterized as unauthorized, God has the last word.”
According to national NAACP bylaws, only the national NAACP can formally and legally remove an NAACP member for cause. But the women elders say the national office never did, even though all internal efforts were being exhausted.
Having former supervisor Gatewood still attend various N.C. NAACP events as a member is disturbing to Childs and those who support her, the elders said. They petitioned Derrick Johnson, president/CEO of the national NAACP, to remove Gatewood as a member. But thus far, nothing has happened.
“I agree with these women,” Rev. Barber said in his statement released Friday. I support their efforts and their unwavering call for action. This has gone on too long and if those who have power act do so, we will be stronger because of their call to action.”
Reportedly, while the N.C. NAACP has a policy against sexual harassment, the national NAACP does not, even though, as an organization, it pushed Congress in 2018 to pass legislation outlawing the practice in the workplace.
Several of the Women Elders at the Greensboro press conference, including O’Linda Watkins – McSurely, president of the Moore County NAACP; Anna Richards, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP; and Ana Blackburn of the State NAACP, said that if they don’t see resolution of the situation soon, in addition to a new policy addressing sexual harassment from the national NAACP, they will organize a bus trip to the Baltimore headquarters, and hold a press conference there to ratchet up pressure.
“What we know is that we can no longer stand in the shadows,” said N.C. NAACP board member Rev. Toneyla Rawls of Charlotte.
Rev. Barber, though he is a former president of the N.C. NAACP, is still a member of the national NAACP Board of Directors.
“As a member of the National Board,” he said in his Friday statement, “I intend to stand with this call and work with these powerful women representing some of North Carolina’s finest leaders…”
Correction: The original story titled “Barber, Spearman stand with NAACP women against harassment” by Peacemaker contributor Cash Michaels (in the September 26, 2019 to October 2, 2019 print edition of the Carolina Peacemaker) states that the unnamed supervisor at the time with the N.C. NAACP was fired. Rev. Curtis Gatewood resigned from his position.