Battle over Dominion Energy’s sponsorship leads to demonstrations at state NAACP events

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 10/31/2019, 6 p.m.
Instead of leading a protest, the Virginia State Conference NAACP will be the target of demonstrations at its state convention ...

Instead of leading a protest, the Virginia State Conference NAACP will be the target of demonstrations at its state convention this weekend because of the organization’s ties to Dominion Energy.

In a highly unusual action against the civil rights organization, a two-part demonstration is to be held against the state NAACP on Thursday, Oct. 31, condemning the group for what organizer Richard W. Walker and other critics see as a cozy relationship with the energy giant.

The focus of the outrage: The state NAACP’s announcement of Dominion as the sponsor of the 84th annual state convention and the co-host of a pre-convention reception and panel discussion on 400 years of African-American history. Dominion Energy is under fire for its plan to build a potentially polluting natural gas compressor in the Buckingham County community of Union Hill that was founded by emancipated African-Americans after the Civil War.

The state NAACP is being criticized for accepting $50,000 from Dominion to support the convention. That amount is double the $25,000 Dominion has donated for the convention in previous years.

The demonstrations are scheduled to take place at noon Thursday outside the state NAACP headquarters on West Graham Road, across from Virginia Union University, while the state NAACP’s executive board is meeting, and again at 5:30 p.m. at the convention hotel in Short Pump when the history program and panel discussion is scheduled.

Mr. Barnette

Mr. Barnette

As an internal revolt continued to brew ahead of the convention, Robert N. Barnette Jr., state NAACP president, issued a statement Monday rejecting the call from Mr. Walker and his allies to cancel the history program and to remove Dominion Energy as the history program’s co-sponsor and convention sponsor.

“Dominion Energy’s title sponsorship of the 84th Annual Virginia State Conference Convention is a continuation of corporate support that began in 1986 and had continued over the years,” Mr. Barnette noted.

He insisted that Dominion’s contribution would not impact the state NAACP’s policies.

“Whenever the state NAACP accepts donations from company partners, we do so with the understanding that our civil rights stance will not be undermined by any financial contributions.”

He stated that the NAACP will remain on the front lines fighting for environmental justice.

“The state NAACP is proud to be part of the Green New Deal Virginia and that our Environmental Justice Committee has created a plan to include a sharp focus on eliminating poverty in the state through the promotion of green jobs, the maintenance of clean air and water and the promotion of local-scale agriculture,” he stated.

The state NAACP also remains among organizations supporting a federal lawsuit challenging Dominion Energy’s plan to put the compressor in Union Hill. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond heard arguments in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state Air Pollution Control Board’s issuance of a permit to Dominion.

Such statements have not deterred Mr. Walker and those who have an unfavorable view of Dominion’s involvement with the state NAACP.

The initial demonstration represents a last-ditch effort to get the state NAACP to reverse course and either cancel the program or remove Dominion as co-sponsor, said Mr. Walker, a member of the eighth generation of his family to own land in the Union Hill community.

The evening demonstration, he said, is aimed at raising awareness of what the NAACP is doing.

Ms. Sweet-Love

Ms. Sweet-Love

“Activists and local landowners have fought against the Dominion Atlantic Coast pipeline for years. Allowing Dominion to appear as a co-sponsor is shameful, counterproductive and damaging to the NAACP’s credibility and purported commitment to environmental justice and civil rights,” he said.

As word of the demonstrations began to spread through social media, Gloria J. Sweet-Love of Tennessee, whom the national NAACP has assigned to administer the Virginia State Conference NAACP, sought to keep NAACP members from taking part.

In a letter issued Oct. 21 to branches and executive board members, Ms. Sweet-Love reminded that the NAACP bylaws require that members have “prior approval from the NAACP to protest/demonstrate against or boycott any NAACP event or individual.”