The Rev Hilton Smith, who was elected the 34th president of The Cleveland NAACP by its members during an election held on Nov. 11 at The Cathedral Church of God in Christ in Cleveland
By Johnette Jernigan and Kathy Wray Coleman, Cleveland Urban News. Com and The Cleveland Urban News.Com Blog, Ohio's Most Read Online Black Newspaper(www.clevelandurbannews.com)
CLEVELAND,Ohio- The Rev. Hilton Smith, senior vice president for corporate and community affairs at Turner Construction Company in Cleveland and an associate minister at Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church in Cleveland, is the new chapter NAACP president, NAACP officials said Sunday after an all afternoon election at The Cathedral Church of God in Christ.
Also a former Cleveland School Board president, Smith, 66, beat longtime NAACP affiliate Jocelyn Travis and member Clint Bradley to become the 34th president of the local chapter that celebrated its 100th year anniversary this year.
He told reporters after the election that his major goal for the organization is to continue its fight for Civil Rights and "to move the country forward like Obama."
And from the outcome of the election, Cleveland's Old Black Political Guard will still rule the most prominent Civil Rights institution in the predominantly Black major metropolitan city, and with some of the same Blacks that help to catapult the late Carl B. Stokes as its first Black mayor in 1967, and the first Black mayor of a major American city.
"We hope the new members will get involved and stay involved," said Travis, who trailed Smith in second place. "So many people are asking for help from the NAACP."
The election almost mirrored that of the one for United States president held Nov. 6, replete with required identification, voting booths, a watch dog committee, and supervision by the Rev. Gill Ford, director of unit capacity and membership for the National NAACP who flew in from national headquarters in Baltimore, MD.
"I am here to make sure the process is in accordance with NAACP policy," said Gill, who caught a plane back to Baltimore right after the election.
Gill said that racism is still alive and well in America.
"Racism is a long way from being dead," Gill said. "Our parents dealt with them and if we don't deal with them, we take opportunity away from our children."
The Rev. E. Theophilus Caviness, 84, senior pastor at Greater Abyssinia and the Executive Director of the Cleveland Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, ran unopposed for first vice president, and Bishop E.F. Perry, senior pastor at The Cathedral Church of God in Christ was unopposed for second vice president.
Retired Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Sara J. Harper, a former assistant chief city prosecutor with the Stokes administration in the 1960s who campaigned with Stokes when he won his bid for Cleveland mayor in 1967, and a former branch president who championed the desegregation of Cleveland schools in the 1970s, won the spot of third vice president against closest opponent Dr. Eugene Jordan, an East Cleveland dentist.
Danielle Sydnor came in third place in that race.
Harper got more votes than any candidate, including Smith.
"I want to thank all the people who voted for me and I shall live up to their expectations and do the best job possible," said Harper, 86, the first Black woman to graduate from Case Western Reserve University Law School and one of two Black women to be first elected to an Ohio district court of appeals when she won a seat on the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals in 1990. "I sincerely thank all of the people that came out to vote and as third vice president I will extend the focus beyond the younger children that come to the Sara J. Harper Library to older youth too."
Jordan was diplomatic about the outcome of the election but constructively critical of an organization that he loves whose membership has shrunk from more than 15,000 at its peak to a fraction of that number.
"I believe in the vision, mission, and the statement of equality for African-Americans, and I don't believe its happening right now in the organization," said Jordan.
Retired plain dealer reporter Richard Perry, who is still active in the community and voted in Sunday's election, said that local leaders must be cautious of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is courting them, and that members should be wary of any efforts by Kasich to "run the NAACP."
Other officers elected were Amos Mahsua as branch
treasurer, interim executive director Arlene Anderson as secretary, and Marcia McCoy, the regional director for the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, as assistant secretary. All three were unopposed.
Interviews are underway for an executive director through a process that has narrowed the candidates to three, though NAACP officials would not give the names of the finalists.
The branch election is the first of its kind in terms of enthusiasm since former Cleveland NAACP President George L. Forbes, 81, a former city council president who lost a bid for Cleveland mayor against Michael R. White in 1989, resigned in April as president of the local branch of the nation's most renowned Civil Rights organization.
Forbes was first elected president in 1992 and he ran the organization with an iron fist.
Cleveland Civil Rights Attorney James Hardiman, the first vice president who became president upon the resignation of Forbes and is also the legal director for the Ohio ACLU, did not seek the presidency and bowed out for a run for third vice president as did Darnell Brewer.
Phanawn Bailey, 13, campaigned at the election by passing out literature in support of his uncle, Carl Ewing, who ran successfully for a seat on the executive committee.
"I am here helping my uncle," said Bailey, whose efforts paid off.
Members chosen for the 24 elected slots for the
executive committee are as follows:
Judge Pinkey Carr
Carl S. Ewing
Rev. Charles Lucas
Cleveland Ward 6 Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell
Rev. Leon Thompson
Theodosia Caviness Tucker