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Heartbreak and disbelief after Spearman autopsy report


Reaction to the official autopsy report released last week documenting that former NAACP President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, 71, committed suicide by a “self-inflicted gunshot wound” to his head, has ranged from disbelief to pure sadness from those who knew him best.

Bishop William Barber
“Jesus, Lord, I’m heartbroken, and heartbroken for family and friends,” opined Rev. Spearman’s friend and civil rights colleague, former N.C. NAACP Pres. Bishop William Barber.

The autopsy report confirmed what had been originally reported in July of 2022, that Spearman’s body, dressed solely in a t-shirt and pajama bottom, was slumped on a couch in the basement of his Greensboro home.

A large pool of blood was near the couch, having dripped down from the fatal head wound incurred from the handgun Spearman had used.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s report also noted slash marks on both wrists from a small cutting blade on the body.

“I am surprised at this medical conclusion,” remarked attorney Irv Joyner, chair of the N.C. NAACP Legal Redress Committee. “I don’t have a factual basis to dispute this report, but the findings are completely at odds with the Dr. Anthony Spearman that I knew and worked with.”

Others, like close friend, Rev. Dr. Cardes Brown Jr., pastor of New Light Missionary Baptist Church and chairman of the Justice Coalition USA, also found the autopsy report hard to swallow.

“While I understand the medical examiner made that determination based on his examination, the one thing that is not clear to me is that I knew Dr. Spearman very well and I talked with him that night before his death,” Rev. Dr. Brown told the Carolina Peacemaker in Greensboro last week.

“We spoke every day. We were on the phone Monday night from about 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. with members of the Justice Coalition. He (Spearman) was happy, the Justice Coalition was moving forward well with the defamation lawsuit. There was nothing indicative about him taking his own life. It does not belie what I know in my heart about Dr. Spearman’s character. The Wednesday before his death he was robbed at gunpoint. The person who robbed him was apprehended the next day. They arrested him and he was bonded out of jail. Then Spearman was killed.”

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman
“Spearman was an advocate for human rights. He helped people. He loved his wife and his family. That was not Anthony Spearman,” insisted Dr. Brown.

“When you add up the knowledge you have of a person: for example, if I die, it surely won’t be [by] my doing. It might look like that, but I know Dr. T. Anthony Spearman would not do that. I knew him and we walked so many miles together. It does not align with the person I do know,” Brown told The Peacemaker.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s report found no evidence of death other than suicide, however.

Mark Cummings, Rev. Dr. Spearman’s attorney who filed the defamation suit against national NAACP President/CEO Derrick Johnson, NAACP Board Chairman Leon Russell and N.C. NAACP Pres. Deborah Dicks Maxwell, among others in June 2022, was also in disbelief.

Brown added, “You have all these relevant things that factor into this. Were these people questioned, was there a determination that he owned a gun? We know it was made to look like a suicide.”

Cummings was convinced shortly after Dr. Spearman’s death that he did not own a gun.

Still, others who knew Rev. Dr. Spearman, despite their shock, chose to honor the man they knew, no matter what darkness may have allegedly plagued him.

“In his notable leadership of the N.C. NAACP and the N.C. Council of Churches, as well as his long service as a pastor and teacher, Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman worked to make North Carolina a more just, equitable, and kind place,” said Dr. Timothy B. Tyson, Duke University Senior Research Scholar, and Spearman friend.

“His light was love in the largest sense, and his labors cheerful and earnest. His tender regard for other people was his hallmark. His struggles and achievements bring to mind the words of the old gospel hymn, ‘Let the work that I’ve done, speak for me’.”