Will Philly NAACP boss who shared anti-Semitic meme run for another term at the top? He’s not saying

By: - May 10, 2021 12:28 pm

Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, shown speaking at a press conference in July (Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Embattled Philadelphia NAACP President Rodney Muhammad still has his post and is not barred from seeking another term in the city branch’s upcoming election nearly a year after sparking outrage over sharing an anti-Semitic meme on Facebook.

The city’s NAACP branch is expected to hold an election for officers and executive committee positions in July, said Juan Cofield, who was appointed administrator of the branch by the national NAACP office.

Cofield, who is overseeing the election, said all members of the branch’s current leadership are eligible to run, including Muhammad. Whether Muhammad will run for any leadership position remains unknown. Muhammad did not respond to a request for comment.

“[Muhammad] has not indicated to me that he’s planning to run or is not planning to run,” said Cofield, a member of the national NAACP board of directors.

He said the local branch has lost credibility and to regain it “may or may not require some changes in the leadership.”

Last year, Muhammad said the national NAACP office would help the local branch change leadership following the uproar around his social media post. He has led the local branch since 2014.

“I welcome the decision by the Executive Committee to have the national office assume responsibility for the branch, help us transition to new leadership and seek to make our relationship with faith communities across Philadelphia stronger than ever,” Muhammad said in August.

NAACP national leadership backs Rodney Muhammad despite his anti-Semitic post

Micah Sims, the local branch’s political action chairman, did not return a request for comment. Bishop J. Louis Felton, first vice president of the local branch, and a spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia both declined to comment in an email.

The Philadelphia NAACP has an upcoming closed-door general membership meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 25, which will be held virtually. NAACP branch members interested in running in the election for a post should attend the meeting.

The field of candidates is expected to be finalized next month, Cofield said.

The local branch delayed their scheduled election in November. Asked why that election did not occur, Cofield said: “I don’t know the answer to that.”

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“I do know that there was a problem and things were delayed and there were several months without meetings,” he added.

After Muhammad shared the anti-Semitic social media post, the Philadelphia NAACP executive committee requested that the national NAACP appoint an administrator to oversee the branch last August.

In a letter dated Aug. 21, 2020, national NAACP President Derrick Johnson said an administrator would be named within 15 days. Cofield said he was appointed in late 2020.

Cofield said he has had several meetings with the Philadelphia branch’s executive committee and participated in general membership meetings, all of which were virtual. He lives in Boston.

As administrator of the local branch, Cofield assumed overall responsibility for its operations. He said his role was to “put the branch in a posture that will have the full confidence of the members and the Greater Philadelphia community.”

Muhammad shared the anti-Semitic meme in July and was swiftly condemned for it. Several elected officials called for Muhammad to resign or for the local branch to oust him, including Mayor Jim Kenney, Gov. Tom Wolf, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Sen. Anthony Williams.

Muhammad initially maintained he was not aware that the meme was anti-Semitic. He eventually apologized. The national office of the NAACP backed Muhammad, although it condemned his posting as hate speech.

The meme Muhammad posted showed photos of Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, rapper Ice Cube and TV host Nick Cannon, all of whom had made anti-Semitic statements around that time and faced criticism.

Below those photos appeared a caricature of a Jewish man with a large nose and black beard who was wearing a yarmulke. The Jewish man’s image was imposed on the sleeve of an unseen person whose hand, which has a large jeweled ring on it, is pressing down on a pile of bodies.

A quote on the meme, which was misattributed to French philosopher and writer Voltaire, actually was said by a white nationalist and Holocaust denier.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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