published Monday, August 12th, 2013

NAACP sees membership spike in the greater Chattanooga area, nationally

  • photo
    James R. Mapp speaks at Jubilee Day 2013 in this file photo.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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For more information concerning NAACP membership and meetings contact Atkins at 423-320-8598.

The nonprofit that touts itself as the biggest, baddest, boldest civil rights organization in the country had so little participation in its Chattanooga-Hamilton County branch that former President James Mapp had to take the head position again this year at age 85 because no one else wanted the job.

But since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in June and George Zimmerman was acquitted on charges of killing an unarmed black teenager in July, NAACP membership and participation have spiked locally and nationally.

"The issues have heightened the community into action," said Eric Atkins, secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

More people have joined the local NAACP in the past two months than have joined all year, he said, estimating that 25 people have joined since June.

"The issues [voting rights and criminal justice] highlight the necessity and the relevancy of the NAACP. That's why we're seeing the renewed emphasis," Atkins said.

In June, the high court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and allowed states once bound by the act, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

Some civil rights leaders said the ruling opens the door to re-establish Jim Crow-type laws that could lead to longer voting lines or reduce voting times. But instead of only blacks, a broader group of people will be affected.

Then on July 13, neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman said he shot the youth in self-defense.

Public discussion of the case focused on Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows people to use deadly force in self-defense without the duty to retreat in the face of perceived threat. About 30 states have similar laws.

More than 1.7 million people signed a petition on the national NAACP website to have the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Zimmerman, according to Eric Wingerter, the national NAACP's vice president for communications and new media.

It's the largest number of signatures on a petition in the NAACP's 103-year history, Wingerter said.

"People are interested in knowing what they can do, and being a part of the NAACP is a big part of the solution to make sure there are no more Trayvons," he said.

Wingerter said thousands of people have joined the NAACP through online memberships since the verdict. He said the organization has about a half-million paid memberships, but said that about 2 million people participate when the NAACP calls for protest or community action.

Stand your ground laws will be one of the issues emphasized when civil rights leaders and supporters meet in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 24 for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Mapp said leaders also will ask that Section 4 be put back into the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Atkins said NAACP members and supporters from across the state will partner to take a busload of people to the Washington event.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman atyputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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