WASHINGTON – The national board of the NAACP voted Friday to dismiss the organization’s president, Cornell William Brooks, after three years’ service, pledging a “systemwide refresh” at the nation’s largest and most storied civil rights group to confront President Donald Trump more vigorously.
Brooks, who said in an interview that he was “baffled” and saddened by the decision, will leave the organization at the end of June when his contract expires. The group will begin searching for a new leader while Leon W. Russell, the chairman of the board, and Derrick Johnson, the vice chairman, head day-to-day operations.
The sudden change at the top of the NAACP shows how the energy of liberal activists in the era of Trump is forcing upheaval even in institutions like a century-old civil rights stalwart. Brooks was hardly reserved in his own activism. He was arrested this year for leading a sit-in at the Alabama office of Sen. Jeff Sessions, trying to block his confirmation as attorney general.
But the board of the NAACP wants a new face of the organization. Both Russell and Johnson said the group needed to more effectively push back against Trump’s stances on issues such as voting rights laws, public education, environmental policy and the criminal justice system. The group, which has been eclipsed in many ways by the more youthful Black Lives Matter movement and the broader “resistance” to Trump, is launching a national listening tour of cities across the nation to get ideas about how it can remain relevant.
“We are in a transitional moment,” Johnson said. “This is the opportune time to begin to look at all our functions as an association and see, are we the right fit for the current reality?”
In the interview Friday afternoon, Brooks said he convened a meeting a few weeks ago to study how the organization could both engage the Trump administration on issues and oppose White House policies that went against the group’s beliefs. He also said that since January, membership has risen by 87 percent and donations are up 200 percent.
“I’m somewhat mystified and disappointed because I love the work,” Brooks said. “Relevance is about authenticity and impact, and we tried to do that. So it’s been a tough ride.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, expressed gratitude for Brooks’ “service in the fight for justice, the moral clarity that he has brought to bear on the challenges we face, and the sacrifices that he has made while resisting injustice across the country.”