State NAACP president dismissed, listening tour stopped in shake-up

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/23/2019, 6 a.m.
The president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP was abruptly dismissed and the civil rights group’s statewide “Listening Tour” has ...
Mr. Barnette

The president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP was abruptly dismissed and the civil rights group’s statewide “Listening Tour” has been halted in changes announced last weekend by the state administrator.

Robert N. Barnette Jr. of Hanover County is to immediately take the helm of the state NAACP, replacing the Rev. Kevin L. Chandler of South Boston.

Mr. Barnette was serving as the state vice president, as well as president of the Hanover County Branch NAACP.

Rev. Chandler was not planning to run for re-election.

The change is the work of Gloria Sweet-Love, the Tennessee State NAACP president whom the national NAACP appointed earlier this year to administer the Virginia affiliate.

She announced the change Saturday during a meeting of the state NAACP executive committee and then sent a notice to the branches around Virginia on Tuesday.

In her news release to the media, Ms. Sweet-Love did not mention her dismissal of two other executive committee members — Jesse Frierson of Richmond, who was removed as chairman of the state NAACP Political Action Committee, and state Treasurer James P. Boyd of Portsmouth.


Mr. Frierson

Neither Mr. Frierson nor Mr. Boyd could be reached for comment.

The changes spotlight a continuing instability in the top reaches of the organization, which is impacting its effectiveness in the state. On Aug. 1, the state conference kicked off a statewide “Listening Tour” in Richmond to hear about the issues and concerns facing African-Americans and to come up with a plan for policy and political solutions.

The tour, announced by Rev. Chandler and Mr. Frierson, was to make stops in seven additional communities through Sept. 30 and then release a report later in the fall.

Jonathan McKinney, Mid-Atlantic regional director for the national office, put the brakes on the effort, according to reports, because the tour was not properly approved by the state executive committee and because of concerns about two of the tour’s co-sponsors, the Virginia State Unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Frederick Douglass Leadership Institute.


Rev. Chandler

Rev. Chandler, who was unable to attend last weekend’s executive committee meeting, told the Free Press on Tuesday that he hadn’t received any notice saying he’d been removed from office. He said he only learned he was out after talking with a reporter, who read him the state NAACP news release about the change.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about any removal,” said Rev. Chandler, the 56-year-old pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in South Boston. “This is a shock to me. … This is not a way to operate a civil rights organization.”

Rev. Chandler was elected president in 2017 and said he had no plans to seek a second, two-year term.

A former state NAACP vice president and former chair of the group’s religious affairs committee, Rev. Chandler acknowledged “that we have been having some internal issues, but we were working toward resolving those issues.”

Mr. Barnette, a retired safety engineer, said he plans to run for state president at the state convention slated for Nov. 1 through 3 in Henrico County. He said he would follow the bylaws and only take on such tasks as the executive committee approves. He also plans to continue to work on the convention planning committee.

Ms. Sweet-Love did not offer any explanation for the changes in the press release and did not respond to a request for comment.

Rev. Chandler said he is concerned about the dismissal of Mr. Frierson, who had begun been making what he called “great strides” in raising the profile of the state NAACP at the General Assembly.

He also expressed concern that the progress Mr. Frierson has made in creating connections with like-minded organizations and to expand its presence during legislative sessions would be undermined.

Mr. Frierson has worked to get more state NAACP members to participate in the group’s annual Lobby Day. More significantly, he created a cadre of volunteer lobbyists from the NAACP to meet with legislators and attend General Assembly committee meetings to present the NAACP’s views on legislation.