NAACP selects Virginia lawyer, minister as new leader

Takes position at troubled time for rights group

Roslyn Brock, head of the NAACP directors, put a pin on new president Cornell William Brooks on Saturday.
Associated Press
Roslyn Brock, head of the NAACP directors, put a pin on new president Cornell William Brooks on Saturday.

WASHINGTON — The NAACP, which has been under interim leadership since its president resigned six months ago, has chosen Cornell William Brooks as its next leader. Brooks, a lawyer and ordained minister, has no national profile but ran for Congress as a Democrat in Northern Virginia in 1998.

He is executive director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, based in Newark, but commutes between that state and the Washington area, where he has a home in Prince William County, Va., and is an associate minister of Turner Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hyattsville, Md.

Brooks, 53, spoke carefully Saturday, saying he is reluctant to articulate a vision for the NAACP before he speaks with the association’s membership.


‘‘I don’t take the responsibility lightly. I am deeply humbled and honored to be entrusted with the opportunity to lead this powerful historic organization,’’ Brooks said in an interview after his selection. ‘‘In our fight to ensure voting rights, economic equality, health equity, and ending racial discrimination for all people, there is indeed much work to be done.’’

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The NAACP has come under increased public scrutiny in recent weeks after one of its chapters was set to present a humanitarian award to Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, just days after Sterling was caught on tape making racist statements. The chapter president resigned.

Other questions about the relevance of the 105-year-old organization have dogged its leaders as the country changes demographically and technologically and civil rights campaigns have moved from street protests to social media.

Brooks, who has a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, a master of divinity from Boston University School of Theology, and a law degree from Yale Law School, has worked on issues such as fair housing and the reentry to society of incarcerated felons.

He said the NAACP’s relevance is still felt through landmark civil rights rulings, such as the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which led to school desegregation.


The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is not directly affiliated with the NAACP, led that legal battle and is celebrating the ruling’s 60th anniversary.

‘‘As a graduate of both Head Start and Yale Law School, I am a beneficiary, an heir, and a grandson . . . of Brown versus Board of Education,’’ said Brooks, who is married and has two teenage sons.

Roslyn Brock, chairman of the NAACP board of directors, acknowledged the challenges facing the organization, which has reduced its staff by 7 percent this year and lost several top executives, including its chief financial officer.

‘‘We are a leaner, more nimble organization for our new president and CEO to build on,’’ said Brock. ‘‘We have experienced the ebb and flow of funding. We’ve weathered the best of times and the worst of times.’’

The Hollins Group of Chicago led the NAACP’s executive search and Brooks was selected from more than 450 applicants, Brock said.


Brooks, a native of South Carolina, will become the NAACP’s 18th national president, replacing interim leader Lorraine Miller.

The NAACP’s most recent president, Benjamin Jealous, and others in the association had advocated that a woman be chosen as its next operational leader but only one woman was among the finalists, according to two sources close to the NAACP who were not authorized to speak publicly about the search process.

Finalists for the position alongside Brooks included pastor Frederick Haynes, the leader of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, and Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.