Lawyer Morris Reed will replace Danatus King as president of the New Orleans Branch NAACP.
Reed was elected Wednesday to a two-year term that begins Jan. 1. He will become the group’s first new president in a decade.
King, a lawyer who has led the organization since 2005, announced in July that he planned to step down to devote more of his time to a church he founded 35 years ago.
Reed said he sees his election as an opportunity to revitalize the once-thriving local chapter of the national civil rights organization, which has struggled to attract younger members.
“We certainly have to reinvigorate our organization and increase interest in our organization,” Reed said. “But we also have to be engaged in the community.”
The NAACP, Reed said, is no longer on the leading edge of the fight for social justice and civil rights in New Orleans. He said he wants to raise the group’s profile.
Reed received about 48 percent of the votes, beating out three other candidates: Levon LeBan, Cyril Saulny and Gerod Stevens. Ninety-one ballots were cast.
The organization also elected Gloria Johnson as its first vice president, Mary Evans as second vice president and Debra Chapman Kareem as treasurer.
NAACP officer positions are unpaid, volunteer posts.
The local NAACP was incorporated in 1915. Past presidents have included former Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial and activist Dyan French “Mama D” Cole.
The organization has no full-time employees and, as a matter of policy, does not release membership numbers, King said.
Mirroring the work of its national counterpart, the local NAACP was central to the effort to integrate schools and public facilities in the 1950s and ’60s. In recent years, the branch was vocal in discussions about some of the city’s most racially charged episodes, including the killing of a black college student on Bourbon Street in early 2005 and the use of “stop-and-frisk” tactics by the New Orleans Police Department.
But Reed said the organization needs to be more vocal in confronting the serious issues facing the community, including housing and workplace discrimination, crime, police brutality and racism.
“We’ve got tradition behind us,” Reed said. “There’s just been a gap in the activity, and we hope to fill that gap.”
The change in leadership comes as the nation once again is having a conversation about race in the aftermath of three recent, high-profile police killings of black males: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York; and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
Given those situations, Reed said, his term will include pushing for an “active and well-financed” police monitor’s office to watch over the NOPD. “We must have that in place to safeguard the rights of all citizens.”
Reed is a former police officer, prosecutor and Criminal District Court judge.
King has led the local chapter for 10 years, taking over at a time when the group was foundering after the national organization suspended its then-president. He announced that he would be leaving the job in July, five months after his long-shot bid to unseat Mayor Mitch Landrieu failed. King said then that he planned to devote more of his time to a small interdenominational church that he founded in 1979, the Church of God Almighty.
“I did not run for re-election because God has moved me to do some new work,” King told NAACP members Wednesday during the organization’s annual board meeting. “As reluctant as I was and as much as I love the NAACP, I had to make that decision to step down.”
He challenged the group’s members to come together under its new leadership to fight for social justice and civil rights.
“There is a lot of work that remains to be done,” King said. “It’s my plea to all of you, no matter if your candidate or candidates win or not, to come together as one unit. If we come together as one unit, we’re strong. If we don’t, we’re weak.”