Members of Philadelphia NAACP are voting Saturday to choose a new president, ending a turbulent period in the history of one of the oldest civil rights groups in the city.
The outcome is a forgone conclusion with Catherine Hicks, publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, running unopposed. The remaining positions are also uncontested, with many candidates already serving in leadership roles.
”It’s a new day. It’s a fresh start,“ said Hicks, standing in front of the group’s headquarters on Germantown Avenue in the Nicetown section. The chapter was founded in 1911 and has more than 1,200 life members, she said.
The chapter was embroiled in controversy in 2020 after then-President Rodney Muhammad posted an anti-Semitic image on his Facebook page. Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney were among those who called for Muhammad’s resignation.
Muhammad, who had held the position since 2014, was ousted in July 2020 after the executive committee voted to dissolve itself and relinquish full leadership to the national office, which appointed new leadership of the Philadelphia chapter until an election.
Muhammad, who worked as a paid political consultant for Kenney until last year, initially told The Inquirer he didn’t realize the image — which included a caricature of a hook-nosed, yarmulke-wearing figure on the sleeve of an unseen person who is crushing a mass of people with a ring-bedecked hand — was offensive. Kenney criticized the post and called on Muhammad to apologize.
An administrator has been running the chapter for the past year. Saturday’s election was originally scheduled for November 2020. Candidates seeking positions submitted petitions during the last general membership meeting.
It was the second time in six years that the national NAACP stepped in to make leadership changes in the Philadelphia chapter.
J. Whyatt Mondesire, the chapter’s longtime president, was removed in April 2014, along with board members Sid Booker, Donald “Ducky” Birts, and the Rev. Elisha Morris.
The four had been longtime friends and allies before a very public falling-out evolved into legal action about how Mondesire handled the chapter’s finances. Mondesire died in 2015.
Hicks, a longtime member, said she hopes to focus on crime, schools and gentrification. A unity festival is planned for July 31, she said. She currently serves on the executive committee.
“We want to change any misconceptions that people have in reference to the past,” Hicks said. “My vision is to put the Philadelphia chapter back on the map.”
Members began trickling into the NAACP office Saturday shortly after the polls opened at 11 a.m. Many warmly greeted Hicks before casting paper ballots. Besides the officers, candidates are also seeking uncontested seats on the executive committee.
”Easiest election ever,” quipped Linda Miller, 72, a longtime member. She added that the NAACP is “needed now more than ever,” given recent attacks by lawmakers across the country to roll back voting rights.
Polls close at 3 p.m. The newly elected slate will be installed Sunday by Judge Sharon Williams-Losier during a 3 p.m. ceremony at the Mount Airy Church of God and Christ, 6401 Ogontz Ave.
This is a developing story.