National NAACP office ousts local chapter president for alleged political action violations

Local NAACP President Elenora Woods, center, leads a "Don't Hate, Vote!" chant at Miller Park after a march against police brutality and excessive force on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter

The national office of the NAACP has ousted and suspended the membership of local chapter president Elenora Woods.

In an email sent Tuesday to officers and executive members of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County branch, state leaders informed local officials of the ouster.

"The removal from office and suspension of membership is effective immediately ... for conduct inimical to the NAACP," the email reads. "[A]nd to protect the [national, state and local offices] from the danger of irreparable harm."

Woods, who was first elected to lead the local chapter in 2014, said Wednesday she was unaware of the email and hadn't heard from the state or national offices about her removal.

"I don't know enough about what's really going on or where that information is coming from, nor have I received any notification from state or national," she said. "I'm really surprised that they never contacted me."

An NAACP state official declined to comment, and local officials could not be reached for comment.

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga NAACP President Elenora Woods introduces Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg during a rally at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The email cited a violation of a political action bylaw as the reason for the ouster. According to the bylaw, local chapters are expected to be politically active in ways such as informing citizens and encouraging civic engagement through voter registration activities and public forums. But they are not permitted to be partisan, and they "shall not endorse candidates for public office."

"The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and does not endorse candidates or political parties, or engage in direct campaigning," reads the organization's statement on endorsements of political candidates.

Last month, Woods took the stage at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center to introduce former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg during a campaign rally.

"Today I early voted for Mike Bloomberg," Woods told the crowd. "And let me tell y'all why ... No. 1, this is one of the most important elections in our lifetime ... and we've got to feel the urgency right now ... . We got to elect the best candidate to represent all people and beat Donald Trump, and that is Mike Bloomberg."

But Woods said Wednesday that she was speaking as a private citizen and not in her capacity as NAACP president.

"In the name of the NAACP, I've never politically endorsed anyone," she said. "Recently, I introduced Bloomberg. But it was not an endorsement, [and] I was doing it as a private citizen ... . I would never do anything to cause irreparable harm to the NAACP."

Woods has been criticized by some community members for inviting Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond on stage during the county's 2019 Jubilee Day Celebration not long after a deputy - Blake Kilpatrick - was video recorded punching and kicking a handcuffed black man.

"Like I told others [who say] 'Why don't you ask him to step down?' Well, why would I ask [Hammond] to step down?" Woods asked during the event, which is often celebrated as the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. "He's got to fix it. He's the sheriff. Whatever happens in the sheriff's department, it rests on his shoulders. We send him away, and it may be worse."

Those who disagreed with her remarks claimed she normalized police brutality, standing in the way of change.

Nevertheless, Woods said she plans to continue advocating for civil rights, whether it's with the NAACP or on her own.

"I was kind of born for [civil rights activism]," she said.

In the meantime, Vice President George Calhoun has taken over as president for the remainder of the term, and the second and third vice presidents, Janet Harden and Ann Pierre, respectively, will move up in position.

A meeting will be held later this month, under the supervision of state Vice President Joe Eskridge, to guide local leaders through the process of filling any vacant vice president positions.

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