For years it was believed that former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume left the organization on good terms. It has recently come to light from documents obtained by the Baltimore Sun that Mfume was basically pushed out. This revelation comes as Kwame is seeking to regain a congressional seat he once held.
Although Mfume has often been credited with helping to turn around the financially strapped NAACP — it was $3.2 million in debt when Mfume took over in 1996 — it now seems he left the civil rights organization in 2004 amid concerns about sexual harassment, among other issues.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the NAACP’s executive committee took a secret vote not to extend Mfume’s contract as CEO in 2004. This vote came after a female employee threatened to sue the group and Mfume for sexual harassment. The Sun obtained the information from the personal and professional papers of the late Julian Bond, who was the NAACP’s chairman at the time. The papers point to major concerns by the organization with Mfume’s management and his personal behavior.
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“The secret 2004 vote that ended Mfume’s nine-year run as president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People came shortly after an employee threatened to sue the organization and Mfume for sexual harassment, but also amid other concerns about Mfume’s management, the records show,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
“The Executive Committee’s overwhelming vote was not lightly taken,” then-NAACP Chairman Julian Bond wrote in the newly discovered papers. “It came after a long period of growing dissatisfaction with high and constant staff turnovers, falling revenues, falling memberships, three consecutive negative performance appraisals, highly questionable hiring and promotion decisions, creation of new staff positions with no job descriptions, and personal behavior which placed each of us at legal and financial risk.”
The document is among Bond’s personal and professional papers at the University of Virginia, where he had taught. Among the papers are Mfume’s employment contracts, a separation agreement, performance evaluations, emails between board members and NAACP counsel, and a report on earlier allegations of mismanagement and nepotism by Mfume, written by two attorneys as part of a 1999 inquiry.
Mfume responded to these papers with a statement: “Sometimes strong-willed leaders have differences of opinion. Julian and I were no different.” He said he took the organization from debt to a surplus, and received a raise in his final three-year contract in 2001.
Mfume, a Democrat, is currently seeking a seat Maryland’s 7th District in Congress. Previously, Mfume held the office from 1987 until he resigned in 1996 to head the NAACP. The seat is now vacant, following the death of Mfume’s successor, Democrat Elijah Cummings. A special primary will be held Feb. 4.
Mfume wasn’t the only one who said he left the NAACP amicably. So did Bond, who said at the time: “Kweisi Mfume came to the NAACP when we were nearly bankrupt and our reputation under siege; he left sure re-election to Congress to help save the NAACP. He has been one of the most effective spokespersons for justice and fair play.”
But now it seems there were questions by the board concerns about his management as well as the sexual harassment allegation. According to a former manager, after she rebuffed an advance by Mfume she was later passed over for raises and a promotion. The NAACP settled with her out of court for $100,000. And, in 1999, NAACP lawyers conducted the inquiry into allegations that Mfume gave preferential treatment to an employee he was dating. Mfume admitted it was a “boneheaded” thing to do.
Bond’s papers also revealed the Mfume knew about the vote, as Bond wrote about a “face-to-face” meeting between Mfume and the NAACP board who “informed him of our decision.”