The NAACP, America’s oldest civil rights group, is replacing its president, Cornell William Brooks, and planning a “transformational retooling,” according to the group’s board of directors.
Brooks, who has been the president of the NAACP for three years, will not be retained once his contract is up at the end of June, the chairman and vice chair of the board of directors say.
The NAACP says the change is part of “an organization-wide refresh.”
The group is changing its structure and tactics in response to what it calls “audacious challenges” and “today’s volatile political, media and social climates.”
Brooks has been a high-profile leader of the group, engaging in protests — even getting arrested during a sit-in.
The search for a new leader of the group will start immediately, chairman Leon Russell and vice chair Derrick Johnson told reporters on a conference call.
In the meantime, Russell and Johnson will handle day to day operations, they say, and carry out a listening tour.
“We want to be informed by those who are the people we serve,” Russell said. “And to do so we have to see them, we have to meet them, and we have to listen to them.”
Explaining the choice to replace Brooks, Russell and Johnson didn’t identify a particular thing that Brooks had done wrong — or even one thing that the NAACP, as a whole, had been doing wrong.
But they said the group needs to be stronger in advocacy and education, and better equipped to support local activism.
Brooks told the New York Times he was “baffled” by the choice not to extend his contract.
The NAACP, once the most prominent voice for the rights of black Americans, has recently been accused of losing relevance as new groups — like the Black Lives Matter movement — take the spotlight.
In 2015, NPR’s Adrian Florido reported on the generational shift, noting that Brooks gave a speech forcefully rebutting the idea that the NAACP is out of date:
“Brooks gave a passionate defense against critics who he said think of the NAACP as a diminished organization: ‘We do not crawl on the ground! We do not fall prostrate before problems! We are not relegated to the dust! We are not insects! We are an American iconic institution! We are the NAACP!’
“It is still one of the nation’s most influential black organizations. After all, both Presidents Obama and Clinton attended this week’s convention. So why the need to defend the NAACP so vigorously?
“For years now, some activists have said the NAACP has fallen behind the times. They recognize the crucial role it played in ending legalized discrimination during the Civil Rights Era. But they say it has been less effective in countering racism today, while Black Lives Matter and other protest movements have exploded.”
Brooks was arrested earlier this year in Alabama at a protest against the nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
The Associated Press reports that Ernest L. Johnson Sr., president of the NAACP Louisiana State Conference, celebrated Brooks’ leadership, saying Brooks “brought some young energy to this 108-year-old organization.”