The Rev. Richard Jessie, 2nd District coordinator for the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, issued a statement Thursday calling for fighting at the Columbus branch to cease.
“The atmosphere in the Columbus Branch NAACP for the last few years has been toxic,” Jessie wrote in the statement sent to the Ledger-Enquirer. “The infighting, disrespect, fear, distrust and envy has been a constant underflowing current that at times has erupted into emotional and verbal blowouts. A few times had not GOD and others intervened there probably would have been physical violence.”
“At this point with so many unresolved issues, the best solution would be that the parties involved would simply forgive each other and allow a Spirit of Love to rule,” he continued. “Of course that has been recommended before but has not happened. After working to help this branch resolve critical issues, the personality clashes, the different values and mindsets are too strong, in my opinion, to overcome at this time.”
Jessie then asked members who can’t work under the leadership of local NAACP President Tonza Thomas to leave the organization.
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“First, those who are a part of the ‘opposition party,’ those (who) have been working to remove President Tonza Thomas from her office and cannot work with her in a positive way, should voluntarily suspend your active involvement in the branch immediately until she completes her term,” he wrote. “If they don’t voluntarily leave, we are asking the National NAACP to issue an Article 10 on them because we can show how their behavior has been detrimental to the Columbus Branch NAACP.
“Secondly, over the next few months that the State, Regional and National NAACP will help the Columbus Branch reorganize under the Thomas Administration to establish a new Executive Committee,” he added.
Jessie issued the statement in response to controversial public comments made on Aug. 17 by the local branch’s second vice president, Barbara Pierce, and treasurer, Erma Everett, criticizing Thomas and saying she doesn’t speak for them.
The comments appeared in the Ledger-Enquirer after Thomas sent an email to Mayor Teresa Tomlinson requesting the removal of confederate symbols throughout Columbus in the wake of a violent white supremacist/national march in Charlottesville, Va.
At the time, Pierce said Thomas acted without consulting other executive committee members. She said it was an ongoing problem within the organization, and some members had already filed paperwork with the national NAACP requesting Thomas’ removal as president. She said 32 members of the organization signed a petition that accompanied the document.
Pierce and Everett said the organization had closed a branch bank account and opened another one to keep Thomas from spending money.
“We are broke,” said Pierce. “Our Freedom Fund Banquet is supposed to take us the whole year and beyond, but she has spent all of our money. ... She took a lot of the money running for state office, buying stamps and buying paper and buying ink cartridges and things like that.”
Thomas, who currently serves as the Georgia NAACP’s state secretary, announced in July that she’s running for state president. Elections will be held Oct. 7 at a state convention in Augusta, Ga. She said she’s running to reinvigorate youth, whom she believes are the “lifeblood” of the organization.
In August, she said the letter to the mayor was based on a directive from the Georgia Conference of the NAACP, which issued a release calling for all symbols of the Confederacy to be removed from Georgia public property.
Thomas said the NAACP has bylaws that say if the president is absent or is incapacitated then the chain of command goes into effect to the first vice president, and then the second vice president and then the third vice president.
Concerning branch finances, Thomas said she planned to report Pierce’s statements about her spending to national officials, because it’s a “blatant lie.” She said the bank account was closed by someone who had no authority to do so, but the organization has another account that she continued to use.
Jessie said the executive committee met after Pierce’s and Everett’s comments appeared in the Ledger-Enquirer and members voted to recant the two women’s statements. He was authorized to make the retraction.
The committee also voted to follow national and state directives calling for the removal of Confederate monuments on public property.
On Thursday, Pierce — a former member of the Muscogee County School Board — said the people that Jessie labeled “the opposition party” are those who really care about the organization and want to see things done right.
Pierce said she stands by the statements she made in August and won’t recant.
She never had a problem with following the national and state directives, she said, just how Thomas handled the situation.
Ed Dubose is a member of the National NAACP board, as well as a former state and local president. He said he couldn’t give any specifics about the situation, because the NAACP has articles in its constitution and bylaws against people speaking to media about internal issues.
“One of the things in the organization that members shouldn’t do and they have done, on all ends, is that when things are happening internally with the organization or not, we don’t comment,” she said. “We have a national organization that has the interest of everybody in this branch, in the state and across the country at heart. But I just can’t comment on what is or isn’t happening right now.”
He said he would like to see the local branch get back to issues that really matter.
“There are a lot of things happening right now that’s affecting people’s lives,” he said. “We still have to deal with racial profiling. We just had two hurricanes back to back — Hurricane Irma and Harvey. And some of our units participated in trying to coordinate relief efforts.
“We have a president who in some cases doesn’t seem to speak for all of the people in the country,” he said. “Those are the issues that we need to be able to get back on.”