What happens next in N.C. NAACP allegations drama?By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Contributor / October 9, 2019
According to those who attended last weekend’s 76th Annual N.C. NAACP Convention in Winston-Salem, it was memorable, but for the most part, for all of the wrong reasons.
What normally and annually is an exercise for attendees in reaffirming the basic principles of the state’s oldest, and foremost civil rights organization, was instead, according to some who attended last weekend’s three-day session, a tense affair involving factions, accusations, anger and uncertainty.
So much so that Derrick Johnson, the president/CEO of the national NAACP, personally came down from his Baltimore, Md. headquarters, to address the North Carolina membership Saturday, reminding all that they were “family,” not to speak with the media, and that the enemies of equality and racial justice would like nothing better than to see the NAACP – even in North Carolina – be ripped apart, and rendered ineffective as the crucial 2020 elections approach.
The cause for all of this unbridled angst? Reverberations from troubling allegations of sexual harassment against one of the state NAACP’s former top administrators, Rev. Curtis Gatewood.
It was two weeks ago that former state chapter Youth Director Jazmyne Childs, surrounded by supporters, including former N.C. NAACP Pres. Rev. Dr. William Barber, held a press conference, publicly accusing Rev. Gatewood of sexually harassing her as her supervisor in 2017.
Gatewood emphatically denied her charges, but during the course of a five-month investigation of Childs’ complaint, Gatewood resigned. The investigation revealed evidence that Childs’ was telling the truth, NAACP officials say. However, despite repeated urgings by Rev. Barber and the state chapter, the national NAACP did nothing to revoke Gatewood’s membership.
The group, Elder Women of the N.C. NAACP, ultimately threatened to bring the controversy right to the national NAACP’s doorstep in Baltimore, forcing Pres./CEO Johnson to formally suspend Gatewood’s membership, pending a hearing.
By doing so, Gatewood, who was originally a candidate for state NAACP president opposing current President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, was deemed ineligible to run by the national office. And as a result, the scheduled election was postponed until further notice.
The story has been carried all over the country, even by the extreme right-wing Web site, Breitbart.com, which once tried to frame a former NAACP official as a racist, with an edited videotape several years ago. Reportedly, Rev. Gatewood has appealed his suspension, the hearing for which, at press time, had not been scheduled (though sources say a meeting concerning it has been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 19.)
Published reports now also state that a second female former N.C. NAACP member has come forward to also allege that Gatewood sexually harassed her.
It was under this cloud that the N.C. NAACP Convention in Winston-Salem tried to proceed as normal. But a faction of Gatewood supporters were determined to be heard, many there said.
One of the first indications of a coming rough convention took place Thursday night – the first night of the convention – at Emmanuel Baptist Church, where according to published reports and eyewitnesses, Winston-Salem police were called after an alleged “disruption” of a meeting there. Rev. John Mendez, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist, called the police, and told a local newspaper that Gerald Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, was one of several “supporters of Gatewood” present was involved.
There were no arrests, though at least nine police officers answered the call.
In a phone interview Monday evening, Givens disputed Rev. Mendez’ published account, but did confirm that he was at the church, at that meeting, and ultimately did have a nonviolent confrontation with N.C. NAACP Pres. Dr. Spearman about some issues, but would go no further in describing what exactly they were about.
In a statement issued to his Raleigh NAACP branch later, Givens alleged that “Within 15 minutes of my arrival, a member of the security detail attempted to physically attack me, while calling me a “boy” in the process. He made several statements indicating that he was angry about issues relating to election procedures committee.”
Givens continued, “Later, the same member of security who threatened me earlier, then threatened one of the delegates on the floor and turmoil ensued. Law enforcement officers were called in, and the delegates who had objected to conducting business without a quorum or proper bylaws were asked to leave. All of our convention delegates witnessed these events.”
He maintains that he was not there in support of Rev. Gatewood.
On the call, Givens did allude to what has been publicly alleged by the Alamance County NAACP, where Rev. Gatewood was once president. Members of that branch alleged that Dr. Spearman “…faces allegations of financial misconduct, and that Gatewood had promised to audit the state organization if he were elected,” according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Sources close to Dr. Spearman, however, dispute those allegations, saying that the structure of the N.C. NAACP hierarchy and procedures after Rev. Barber took over in 2005 from the previous president wouldn’t allow for that to happen without more than one officer involved.
Then Friday morning when the convention moved to the Marriott Hotel in downtown Winston-Salem, several police officers – both uniformed and plainclothes – were seen there to keep the peace at the convention, and for good reason.
A group of Gatewood supporters made their presence known vocally, but soon left, according to published reports.
An administrator from the national office has now been assigned to oversee the state NAACP during this turmoil. All of the conference officers will remain in place and carry on as normal.
“I have great confidence in the national NAACP’s ability to assist the state conference to correct any deficiencies so that we can focus on our ongoing fight for justice,” Givens said.
But until a new election is held, and the Gatewood controversy has been settled once and for all, the internal conflicts of the state’s oldest civil right organization may continue to overshadow the very public social justice conflicts the N.C. NAACP prides itself on fighting.
Cash Michaels is an award-winning journalist and editor, who covers state news for the Carolina Peacemaker. He is based in Cary, N.C.