NAACP elects new leadership

Westminster resident Leon B. Dorsey will lead revived chapter

Focus on children vowed

Vote comes 6 years after initial county branch disbanded

June 11, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Six years after the Carroll County chapter of the NAACP disbanded for lack of leadership, members of the newly reorganized branch met last night to choose officers who will continue the rebuilding process in the fast-growing county.

Leon B. Dorsey, 34, of Westminster was elected president of the chapter.

Dorsey, coordinator for the Responsible Fatherhood Program in Frederick County, promised to focus his efforts on getting members involved in projects that would help the county's children.

"We have to prepare for them," he said.

Joseph Murray was elected first vice president. The other vice presidents are the Rev. Winfrey Blagmond and Vaughn Paylor. Patricia Staples was elected secretary of the chapter.

Thelma Smith, who had served as interim chapter president, was one of three members seeking the presidency during the meeting at the Westminster library.

She vowed to dismantle racism in the county. Smith listed problems in Carroll, including racist attitudes in county government and schools, and residents "who condone racism with their silence."

Janet Caldwell, an advertising representative for The Sun, also asked for votes from the 50 members who attended the meeting.

"You cannot use this position as a way to hurt people," she said. "You have to use it as a way to make the community better."

Last night's election was the result of a 16-month effort to restore a county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"We look forward to this branch coming to life. We think it can add something to the life of the community," said Herbert H. Lindsey, president of the state conference of the NAACP.

In the 1980s, Carroll had a fairly active NAACP branch, with as many as 200 dues-paying members. The Rev. Mary D. Carter-Cross resurrected the group twice and continued to build the rolls during several years as its president. But only a small core of active participants volunteered to work on projects, prompting her to resign in 1993. She has since left the county.

Activists seeking to reactivate the branch began meeting at Union Memorial Baptist Church in Westminster in March 1998. The Rev. James Hinton, the church's pastor, said he knew that eventually the chapter would spring back to life.

"I knew it wouldn't happen overnight," he said. "But I saw all the people moving into the county. We had a pool of people to appeal to."

Organizers needed at least 100 members to begin anew. In a county where about 4,200 African-Americans make up less than 3 percent of the population, membership built slowly.

Community activist George Murphy, who was running to become a chapter vice president, offered a $100 bounty for the 100th member recruited.

Such efforts paid off. About 115 people have enrolled in the branch and paid annual dues.

Membership cannot drop below 50 if the branch is to stay active, according to NAACP bylaws.

Last month, state NAACP leaders approved the reactivation of the Carroll branch.

Even without an official sanction, the organizers have been active. The group was instrumental in forcing the school board to reverse its decision to delete the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday from the school calendar.

As Carroll County continues to grow, state NAACP officials have said it will need watchdog groups to ensure minority residents have fair access to services, education and jobs.

Maryland has NAACP chapters in every jurisdiction except Garrett County. Nationally, there are more than 2,200 branches covering 50 states and the District of Columbia. Membership worldwide exceeds 500,000.

"This is the first real meeting we had," said Betty Lee, a lifetime NAACP member and county resident who attended the meeting.

Lee said she hopes the chapter can continue working on housing issues and education for children. She also predicted that the group will be a strong voice for the county's African-American community.

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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