Suspended N.C. NAACP Secretary blasts leadership in videoBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / March 15, 2023
State Secretary Sylvia Ellis Barnes, 75, has served as NAACP Lifetime member, Goldsboro/Wayne County NAACP Chapter president, and secretary of the North Carolina Conference of Branches of the NAACP under five state presidents, from October of 1995 to February 18, 2023. During the Feb. 18 annual meeting, Barnes’ name was reportedly announced as having been suspended by the board, along with N.C. NAACP State Treasurer Gerald Givens.
Barnes was “floored, shocked and surprised” by what she deeply felt was unfair and unjust treatment. She was never notified in advance of any complaint being lodged against her. On Friday, March 10, Barnes taped a 58-minute video message (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmgEm8jIYb8), expressing her continued love for the NAACP. Barnes also expressed her clear disgust with what she believes is an injustice by the national board; the lack of leadership from state conference Pres. Deborah Maxwell; her frustration with Administrator Gloria Sweetlove and Executive Director Da’Quan Love specifically; her denial of violating any membership rules; and pride in her decades of selfless service in the cause of civil rights.
The sad story of Secretary Sylvia Barnes’ suspension is a textbook example, former and current NAACP members say, of how the national NAACP seems to be replacing dedicated veteran members and officers through suspensions, questionable elections and other controversial administrative measures designed to reshape the organization into an entity not reflective of its 1909 founding and principles.
It is the latest chapter in what many are saying is the diminishing of a once great civil rights organization.
A letter addressed to Sylvia Barnes dated March 9, 2023, signed by national NAACP Pres./CEO Derrick Johnson, and delivered March 10th, read in part, “Following your request for a hearing, a panel of National Board Members was convened and a hearing was held. Following the hearing and the panel’s deliberations, the panel submitted its findings and recommendations to the Committee on Membership and Units of the NAACP National Board of Directors (“Committee”). The Committee subsequently made recommendations to the full NAACP Board of Directors.”
The letter from Pres. Johnson continued, “The Committee request that the Board approve the recommendation to immediately suspend Sylvia Barnes (North Carolina – Secretary) for dereliction of duty. Gerald Givens (North Carolina – Treasurer) membership for noncompliance with regulations and request from the Administrators pending such time a hearing panel convenes and returns with a formal recommendation.”
“The purpose of this letter is to notify you that the NAACP National Board of Directors, at its meeting on February 17, 2023, voted to sustain your suspension commencing from the original suspension date. Once the suspension time is complete, you may apply to the National Board of Directors for reinstatement of your membership.”
This letter from Pres. Johnson to Secretary Barnes is problematic for several reasons.First, according to the missive, the alleged suspension of Barnes happened on an “original suspension date,” but the letter never states what that date was. That’s important because the letter also notes that “Once the suspension time is complete, [ Barnes] may apply [to the NAACP board] for reinstatement of [her] membership.” But the letter never cites what that “suspension time” is. How is Barnes supposed to know?
Secondly, the letter stated that Secretary Barnes requested a hearing, and one was held…but apparently without her. The NAACP Bylaws and Constitution mandate a due process hearing, where a member facing suspension can face charges or accusations, presenting evidence and witnesses in defense.
“That has not happened,” she insists.
So where was Secretary Barnes’ NAACP constitutionally mandated right to face the accusations against her and defend herself accordingly?
Barnes maintains it was only when friends and colleagues began calling her with news that she had been suspended after the February 18th NAACP Board meeting that she knew anything about the change in her membership status. Nothing in writing came from the national NAACP office until Friday, March 10, 2023….four weeks later.
She says after hearing about her suspension from others, Ms. Barnes wrote the national NAACP office, requesting confirmation, and a hearing. What she got was the written March 9th response confirming her suspension, and telling her not only that the hearing she requested was held without her participation, but a panel of Board members convened it. That panel deliberated without Ms. Barnes and then “submitted its findings and recommendations to the Committee on Membership and Units of the NAACP National Board of Directors.”
The NAACP board member who chairs that committee, is Gloria Sweetlove, the administrator of the N.C. NAACP and a national NAACP board member, who allegedly wanted Secretary Barnes and Treasurer Gerald Givens suspended in the first place, because they refused her directive to issue money vouchers allegedly without Executive Committee approval, a violation of NAACP Bylaws.
Sweetlove and her committee, in turn, recommended the Barnes and Givens suspensions to the full NAACP Board, which ratified them on Feb. 17th.
When Secretary Barnes discovered what happened, and who was allegedly behind it, she says she became upset with how disrespectfully she had been treated by an organization she literally has given her life to since the age of 14.
On March 6, Barnes sent an email to several N.C. NAACP members informing them that she was no longer state conference secretary, and was no longer authorized to answer their many questions, or help them with issues. But she felt compelled to ensure that her many friends and colleagues fully understood what had happened to her.
So Barnes produced a 58-minute video, sitting at her dining room table in her Wayne County home, speaking to former colleagues, and anyone else who would listen.
“This has been a very stressful time for me because on a daily basis, I am still trying to reason within my mind a reason for my suspension, “ Barnes says on her video. She also confirms that she’s heard nothing from N.C. NAACP Pres. Deborah Maxwell.
“I’m sure, I’m positive that she knew what Ms. Sweetlove was going to do at the national board meeting,” Barnes maintains on the video. “With everything I have in me, she has not been the leader we thought she would be…,” later calling Pres. Maxwell “…a total disappointment.”
Secretary Barnes also revealed that she considered running for state conference in 2021, but backed out when Maxwell signaled that she would indeed run. Barnes threw her support to Maxwell, and then ran for reelection as state secretary.
“I expected great things. I expected great leadership.,” Barnes continued about Pres. Maxwell.’I expected that we would move forward, and be a great N.C. state NAACP under that kind of leadership, and we haven’t seen that.”
Secretary Barnes also noted the whole voucher controversy that got her into trouble. She explained that because of tight audits, there must be a voucher for every check that is written, and the state conference Executive Committee must approve all expenditures over $100. Barnes provided documentation where she and Treasurer Givens routinely refused to violate the established voucher/payment system when ordered to by Gloria Sweetlove, causing the administrator on several occasions to admonish them.
On Sept. 2, 2022, right before the state convention in Fayetteville, an angry Administrator Sweetlove wrote, “Ms. Sylvia and Gerald – I’m again having to personally request that each of you do your job and sign the invoices needed to pay the vendors for the Convention! Both Da’Quan and President Maxwell have requested that you sign these vouchers. If you no longer wish to serve in your respective positions, please resign! These actions are both irresponsible and childish. Don’t call or email! Just sign the invoices/vouchers and write the checks.”
Sweetlove concluded, “Article VIII’s are reserved for persons who choose NOT to perform the required duties of the office. I know that this is a very stressful time. If either of you feel that you can no longer fulfill the requirements of your positions, please send your letter of resignation to President Maxwell and turn in your respective items!”
There was a reason for Secretary Barnes and Treasurer Givens to balk at paying convention vouchers.
After the 2022 NC NAACP Convention, Rev. Corine Mack, Executive Committee member and president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP chapter complained in an email, “We spent $60,000 for a one day NC State convention of which $30,000 was reimbursed to Mr. Love,” Rev. Mack wrote. “He stayed at the Embassy Suites with his mother, family and staff from his company. We were slotted to stay at the motel that literally had roaches crawling at our convention. Quite an expensive roach motel! Less than one hundred people attended and only sixty-seven were eligible delegates.”
On her personal video message, Secretary Barnes offered no apologies for following the policies that guided how she conducted her office. And though she has been indefinitely suspended from the job and membership she loved so much, Barnes is not bitter. She’s still hopeful that the NAACP she originally joined as a teenager, and has faithfully served for well over five decades, will one day return.
“I look forward, even though the national [NAACP] may never give me my membership back [to take part in NAACP marches and rallies again, even as a nonmember],” said the 75-year-old former member. “I want it understood, that I am not in no way downplaying the NAACP. I want you to understand what a wonderful organization it is and what it stands for.”
Barnes said the NAACP of 1909 was created for a reason, and it’s important that our children understand that reason.
Administrator Sweetlove, Pres. Deborah Dicks Maxwell and Executive Director Da’Quan Love have been asked to comment for our story, but did not do so by press time.
Secretary Barnes’ video message can be seen in its entirety below: