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Philly NAACP election signals a fresh start following a controversial president

The newly elected officers and executive committee members of Philadelphia NAACP will be installed Sunday, marking the end of a turbulent period for the civil rights group.

Catherine Hicks, who is running unopposed for president of the NAACP Philadelphia chapter, outside of the NAACP Philadelphia Branch office in Germantown Saturday during the election of officers. Hicks is the publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun.
Catherine Hicks, who is running unopposed for president of the NAACP Philadelphia chapter, outside of the NAACP Philadelphia Branch office in Germantown Saturday during the election of officers. Hicks is the publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Members of the Philadelphia NAACP made it official Saturday: They chose a new president and leadership team, ending a turbulent period in the history of one of the oldest civil rights groups in the city.

The outcome was a foregone conclusion with Catherine Hicks, publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, running unopposed. The remaining positions were also uncontested, with many candidates already serving in leadership roles. After four hours of voting, the entire slate was declared elected. Hicks said the results would be sent to the NAACP national office.

”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 last 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 and only the second woman to lead the group, said she hopes to focus on crime, educational equity, financial literacy, and Black homeownership. Her administration’s theme is “The time is now.” 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.”

The Rev. Hezekiah Lampley, pastor of Morning Star Church of God and Christ in the Strawberry Mansion section, said he came out to vote to support a friend in the ministry, Bishop J. Louis Felton, who was elected first vice president. Lampley said he wants the NAACP to better serve children and the recently incarcerated.

”The children really need someone who can show them what they can accomplish in life,” said Lampley, 71. “It’s really rough right now.”

Members began trickling into the NAACP office Saturday shortly after the polls opened. Many warmly greeted Hicks before casting paper ballots. Besides the officers, candidates were also seeking uncontested seats on the executive committee.

”Easiest election ever,” quipped Linda Miller, 72, a retired government worker and 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.

Andrea Lawful-Sanders, 53, a radio-show host, welcomed the leadership change. Previously a member of the NAACP chapter in Willow Grove, she recently transferred to the Philadelphia group.

”For a long time, I believed the NAACP was dead here in Philadelphia,” Lawful-Sanders said. “Now, I’m going to get engaged. We need the voices here.”

The newly elected slate is expected to be installed Sunday by Municipal Court Judge Sharon Williams-Losier during a 3 p.m. ceremony at the Mount Airy Church of God and Christ, 6401 Ogontz Ave.

”Our city is in crisis,” Hicks said in a statement. “We will expect to be held accountable to the people of this city and we will hold others accountable as well.”