The national leadership of the NAACP will take over the Philadelphia chapter and replace all of its leadership after President Rodney Muhammad made an anti-Semitic Facebook post.
The executive committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP voted on Aug. 20 to effectively dissolve itself and yield full control to the national office.
National leadership will appoint an administrator by early September and shepherd the transition of new leadership at the Philadelphia chapter, said NAACP National President Derrick Johnson in a letter dated Aug. 21 and released Wednesday.
The move all but ends Muhammad’s tenure as president of the local branch, which he has led since 2014.
National and local offices have been under intense pressure from a number of local and state officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney, and organizations to act in response to the anti-Semitic social media post Muhammad shared last month. Many have called on Muhammad to resign or the local chapter leadership to force him out.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Muhammad explicitly apologized for sharing the meme, which he previously failed to do, and said he welcomed the transition to new leadership.
“I apologize for my previous post and the hurt this has caused, and I regret the insult, pain, and offense it brought to all, especially those of the Jewish community,” Muhammad said. “The coming months are critical for America, and the efforts of both the NAACP and religious communities, working together across the country, are vital for the road ahead of us.
”I welcome the decision by the Executive Committee to have the National office assume responsibility for the branch, help us transition to new leadership and seek to make our relationship with faith communities across Philadelphia stronger than ever.”
All aspects of the local branch will run through the national office and appointed administrator, including finances, policies, fundraising and membership, Johnson said in the letter.
An election for NAACP local offices is scheduled for November. It remains unknown whether the national office will appoint new leadership or allow candidates to run in the election.
In the meantime, Muhammad appears to remain the titular head of the local branch, albeit with no power.
Some local groups applauded the move to oust Muhammad.
Steve Rosenberg, chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said the fallout from Muhammad’s post was a “painful period in the long-standing and exceptional relationship between the Black and Jewish communities.”
Rosenberg said the Jewish Federation looked forward to working with the local NAACP branch. The group previously refused to coordinate with the local branch as long as Muhammad was leading it.
“The NAACP is a pre-eminent civil rights organization, and we are grateful to both the local branch and national office for taking steps to address this situation and promote healing,” Rosenberg said. “We look forward to working with the NAACP to forge closer bonds with our two communities to address systemic racism and bigotry of all kinds.”
Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia Regional Director Shira Goodman said in a written statement on Wednesday that the move to end Muhammad’s tenure honors the NAACP’s history and mission.
“There is much work to be done to eradicate systemic racism, antisemitism [sic] and all forms of bigotry from our society,” Goodman said. “We look forward to working with the Philadelphia NAACP under its new leadership — and continuing our work with NAACP branches across the region and nationwide — as partners in the fight against hate.”
Muhammad is the minster at Mosque Number 12 of the Nation of Islam in North Philadelphia. He has a history of sharing anti-Semitic and questionable posts on his own and the mosque’s social media accounts.
Muhammad shared the meme that raised the ire of many in the community on July 23. It showed photos of Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, rapper Ice Cube and TV host Nick Cannon, all of whom have made anti-Semitic statements recently and faced criticism.
Below those photos appeared a caricature of a Jewish man with a large nose and black beard who was wearing a yarmulke. The Jewish man’s image was imposed on the sleeve of an unseen person whose hand, which has a large jeweled ring on it, is pressing down on a pile of bodies.
A quote on the meme, which was misattributed to French philosopher and writer Voltaire, actually was said by a white nationalist and Holocaust denier. Billy Penn and WHYY broke the story last month.
In past statements, Muhammad maintained he was not aware that the meme was anti-Semitic, saying he removed the post when he learned it “bared significant offense to the Jewish community.” He never explicitly apologized for the post before today.
The national office of the NAACP initially backed Muhammad, although it condemned his posting as hate speech.
The inaction and support of national leadership for Muhammad led to grumbling and frustration among state and local NAACP leaders.
Yet Muhammad never lost support from some in the Black community, including Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, a long-time local chapter board member who stepped down from the organization after she was elected sheriff last year.
As criticism against Muhammad mounted and local Jewish organizations refused to work with the local chapter of the NAACP, the national office stepped in to manage the controversy.
The Philadelphia chapter’s executive board is made up of Bishop J. Louis Felton, first vice president; the Rev. Cleveland Edwards, second vice president; Kamryn Bonds, third vice president; Shirley Jordan, treasurer; Shirley Williams, assistant treasurer; and Shirley Roberts, secretary.
Wednesday’s announcement came a day after local Black and Jewish leaders held a virtual discussion to address Muhammad’s social media post and underlying tensions between the groups. Muhammad did not participate.