Chattanooga Hamilton County NAACP President James R. Mapp opens a meeting.

At age 87 and with more than a half-century of community service, NAACP President James R. Mapp is finally ready for a rest.

Mapp, a retired insurance and real estate agent, is stepping down after serving off and on as head of the civil rights group's Chattanooga-Hamilton County branch for nearly 30 years.

"I was president for 28 years and secretary for six years," Mapp said. "That's retirement time for anybody."

He was the lead plaintiff in a 26-year federal lawsuit that led to court-ordered desegregation of Chattanooga public schools in 1971, two decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned "separate but equal" school systems.


What: NAACP annual Jubilee celebration

When: 11 a.m. Jan. 1

Where: First Baptist Church on East Eighth Street


During the two-plus decades of the lawsuit, Mapp's house was bombed and he and his family received death threats.

But it just wasn't in him to give up or back off.

"These are my people," Mapp said in a recent interview.

Former chapter president Valoria Armstrong said Mapp dedicated his entire life to improving the quality of life for blacks in Chattanooga.

Now Dr. Elenora Woods officially will take over the office Jan. 1 at the NAACP's annual Jubilee celebration.

Woods said one of her first tasks will be to suggest that NAACP officials vote Mapp president emeritus of the organization.

"He is a brilliant man and we want to keep him around as much as possible," she said.

The NAACP office will also relocate in January next to Olivet Baptist Church.

Mapp gave his final speech as president at the NAACP's annual meeting this month.

The NAACP "deplores recent actions of the Ferguson and New York grand juries in their failures to let normal justice prevail and also notes the failures of many other grand juries across our country, particularly [in areas] with a legacy of slavery and segregation based on color and race, now generally and for too long have exhibited and accepted discrimination based on these factors," Mapp said during the meeting.

Mapp also called for black General Sessions Court judges and a new method of electing them.

In the history of Hamilton County, there has never been an elected black judge, Mapp charged. Having a lack of blacks in the judiciary adds to the sense that the judicial system isn't fair, he said.

Walter Williams did serve as a Chattanooga city judge.

"This is where our young men get started getting railroaded," he said.

He wants judges to be elected by city or state districts instead of at large. He said blacks make up only about 20 percent of Hamilton County's population, so at-large elections will always favor white candidates.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck, a Chattanooga City Court officer, said he, too, wants to see more blacks elected judges, but added that judges have to uphold the law regardless of race or ethnicity. Therefore, the judge's race may not have much bearing on who goes to jail or gets indicted for crimes, he said.

The NAACP plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers in February when the the civil rights group has its annual day on the hill in Nashville.

After Mapp's presentation, Joe Rowe, former chapter vice president, led the audience of about two dozen people at Glenwood Center in a standing ovation honoring Mapp's service.

"He started under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and has worked under 10 or 12 presidents fighting civil rights issues, but he can't go on forever," said Rowe.

Even this year Mapp has worked for black people to get better pay and progress in the work-force, said Rowe.

Added Armstrong, "The sacrifices he has made lead the way for him to be one of our living legends."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.