The NAACP 108th national convention, held this summer in Baltimore, Maryland, took on more of a distinct Mississippian flavor, following new and unexpected developments in the organization’s leadership.
Derrick Johnson, the NAACP Mississippi State Conference president, was formally introduced to the convention delegates as their new president and CEO, to be served on an interim basis. He will serve at that capacity until a new permanent president is selected by the NAACP board of directors.
Earlier, Johnson made the announcement at the first meeting of the Mississippi delegation at a local hotel.
“It is truly an honor and a privilege to be named the interim president and CEO of an organization that I’ve served for decades,” said Johnson. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we won’t waste any time getting to it. We are facing unprecedented threats to our democracy and we will not be sidelined while our rights are being eroded every day. We remain steadfast and immovable, and stand ready on the front lines of the fight for justice.”
“I could not think of a better, more battle-tested or more qualified individual to guide the NAACP through this transition period,” said Leon Russell, board chairman of the NAACP. “Derrick’s longtime service with the Association will allow him to take decisive action to deal with daily challenges. He will also serve as the primary spokesman for the NAACP. I have every confidence in Derrick and will support him in this new endeavor every step of the way.”
Within hours, Johnson’s duties at the convention were immediately elevated from handling state and regional affairs to becoming the new national face and primary spokesperson of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. He now formally takes a leave of absence as the Mississippi State conference president. State Vice-President Charles Hampton becomes the interim State President.
A longstanding member and leader of the NAACP, Johnson is expected to guide the Association through a period of self-examination, re-envisioning and reinvigoration. He succeeds past president Cornell William Brooks, whose contract was not renewed, expiring at the end of June after serving for three years.
A Mississippi native, Johnson attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS before going to Houston, Texas to receive his Juris Doctorate’s degree from the South Texas College of Law. He followed that with serving in fellowships with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the George Washington University School of Political Management, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He now serves as an adjunct professor at Tougaloo and as an annual guest lecturer at Harvard Law School, lending his expertise to Professor Lani Guinier’s course on social movements.
As state president of the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, he led critical campaigns for voting rights and equitable education. He successfully managed two bond referendum campaigns in Jackson, MS that brought $150 million in school building improvements and $65 million towards the construction of a new convention center, respectively. He was appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, and by then-Governor Haley Barbour as Chair of the Governor’s Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal, taking a critical role in the state helping the Gulf coast recover from Hurricane Katrina. Johnson founded One Voice Inc. to improve the quality of life for African Americans through civic engagement training and initiatives.
The NAACP’s leadership shake-up at the national level began in February. Roslyn Brock stepped down as chairman of the board after serving seven years. Vice-Chair Leon Russell was then moved up to the chair position and Johnson became the new Vice-Chair through a vote by the board. In May, the board voted not to renew Brooks’ contract, leaving the President/CEO position officially open after June 30. In a special board meeting at the beginning of the National Convention, Johnson agreed to be selected as the Interim President.
Johnson has been a frequent visitor to the Gulf Coast. He has been the keynote speaker at both the Biloxi and Stone County NAACP Freedom Fund Banquets over the past year and works closely with Biloxi president James Crowell and Moss Point-Jackson County head Curley Clark, both of whom serve as the Treasurer and 2nd Vice President respectively of the State NAACP Conference.
Crowell is also a member of the NAACP’s 64-member national board of directors.
Johnson insisted that he is not interested in becoming the permanent NAACP President/CEO and will take the lead in finding the organization’s new leader, hopefully by February 2018.