Is there more behind the Baltimore Sun’s recent revelation that Kweisi Mfume left the NAACP under not-so-friendly circumstances? Supporters of former NAACP president Mfume, who is now running for his old seat in Congress, think the timing is curious, as does veteran reporter DeWayne Wickham, who has covered the NAACP for decades.
Mfume is running for a seat in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which became vacant following the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings in October. Mfume held a Democratic seat in Congress from 1987 to 1996. A special primary election is set for Feb. 4, 2020, with a special election scheduled for April 28.
Here’s the background: The Jan. 17, 2020, Baltimore Sun story reported that in archived papers of late civil rights activist Julian Bond, who was the NAACP’s chairman at the time, it found that Mfume was voted out by the board of his position “shortly after an employee threatened to sue the organization and Mfume for sexual harassment.” Bond’s papers are now housed at the University of Virginia.
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Mfume has refuted the Baltimore Sun’s findings, though he declined to speak with the newspaper. He did release a statement saying that he and Bond had a “difference of opinions,” as reported by News One.
“Sometimes strong-willed leaders have differences of opinion. Julian and I were no different,” Mfume said.
Mfume added, “The people in the community know me, and I know them. They know what I am fighting for in this campaign and what I will fight for in Congress.”
Mfume did speak to CQ Roll Call about Bond writing about a “secret” vote by the NAACP Executive Board in 2004. “I really don’t like talking ill of a dead person except to say that Julian’s recollection in all this was not correct,” Mfume told CQ Roll Call.
He also spoke about the sexual abuse allegations. “I was a single man who, on the job, dated a single woman for about six months,” he said. “There were, I think, one or two other people who thought, ‘Maybe he should have been dating me.’”
Wickham in an opinion piece for Afro.com questions the timing of the Baltimore Sun’s revelations about Mfume’s time with the NAACP.
“Less than a month before voters in Maryland’s 7th congressional district go to the polls to pick the Democratic Party’s candidate to succeed Rep. Elijah Cummings, somebody ‘dropped a dime’ on Kweisi Mfume,” Wickham wrote.
According to the reporter, it could all be an effort to bring down Mfume who had been the presumptive frontrunner in the race for the Democratic Party nomination to replace Cummings.
In what he called an “11th-hour smear,” Wickham questioned why Bond’s papers were not just only brought to light. “It’s a good bet that someone who wants to block Mfume’s return to Congress tipped off the media to their existence,” Wickham wrote.
He added: “You might think that Bond’s documents – his attacks from the grave on Mfume should be taken at face value. But my 25 years of reporting on the NAACP – 10 years of that time spent researching a book on the group’s internal politics and gender conflicts – causes me to question the legitimacy of Bond’s claims.”
According to Wickham, power struggles within the NAACP are nothing new. “What my research revealed is that every leader of the NAACP, from Roy Wilkins to Kweisi Mfume, had a power struggle with the executive board of the NAACP that resulted in their ultimate departure from the civil rights group. And, except for Ben Chavis, who led the NAACP briefly in the 1980s, it was the board chair’s micromanagement and attempts to usurp the authority of the civil rights organization’s head that precipitated these departures,” he wrote.
He also wrote about the power struggle between Wilkins and then NAACP chairman Margaret Bush Wilson in 1977, which resulted in the aging executive director being forced into retirement. And in 1994, another power struggle led to Benjamin Chavis being fired from the executive director’s position. In April 1994, Chavis convened a meeting of Black nationalists in Detroit.
Wickham pointed out Mfume’s success as the president of the NAACP should be remembered. Mfume is credited with “rescuing the NAACP from financial ruin and in restoring its standing as an organization that focused on fighting the enemies of civil rights.”
In fact, Wickham said he interviewed Bond at the time of Mfume’s departure and Bond told him, “He will leave a great void. He will leave with our best wishes – and our gratitude for his efforts in bringing us back to solvency early in his tenure, for restoring the NAACP to civil rights primacy, for making the organization better.”
In the Afro.com opinion piece, Wickham wrote, “Bond told me that he and Mfume had a great working relationship. He lied.”
The Moguldom Nation reached out to Anthony McCarthy, Mfume’s communications director, but they both declined to comment.