North Carolina Democratic Party chairman Randy Voller is considering naming former Nation of Islam leader Benjamin Chavis as the state party’s new executive director. Voller was expected to announce Chavis’ hiring at a Wednesday press conference, but canceled the event Tuesday night during a conference call with party leaders, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
An interim executive director is being tapped for 30 days while Voller and his cohorts “explore a permanent replacement.” Voller made clear on Tuesday night’s call that Chavis is his preferred choice for the job.
Chavis burnished his civil rights credentials as a member of the “Wilmington Ten,” released from prison in 1980 with the legal counsel of Amnesty International after serving time for firebombing a white-owned business in North Carolina.
Chavis went on to co-found an all-black political party which was formed because “the American system…does not work in our interests,” and had sexual harassment cases lead to his downfall in leadership positions at the NAACP and Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.
Here are four nuggets from Chavis’ past:
1. Convicted for firebombing as part of the “Wilmington Ten”
Chavis was convicted alongside nine fellow perpetrators in the February 6, 1971 firebombing of Mike’s Grocery in Wilmington, North Carolina, which occurred as Chavis and others were leading a school boycott. After the town broke out in fatal rioting, Chavis and his cohorts were arrested by the National Guard on February 8. Chavis was sentenced to 34 years for arson and conspiracy.
Amnesty International later took on the appeal of the “Wilmington Ten,” creating a high-profile racial issue and earning the overturning of the arsonists’ convictions in 1980 on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. With the support of the NAACP, Chavis successfully petitioned for a pardon from North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue in December 2012.
2. Founded a Black political party because, in the words of his co-founder, “the American system (political, economic, social) does not work in our interests”
Chavis was one of the founding leaders of the National Black Independent Political Party, an all-black political third party formed in 1980 to resist both the Democrats and the Republicans. Chavis’ “impassioned plea for immediate action” helped galvanize the party into existence.
The party convened November 21-23, 1980 with 2,000 attendees at the Malcolm X High School in Philadelphia, vowing in its charter to “attain power to radically transform the present socioeconomic order, that is, to achieve self-determination and social and political freedom for the masses of black people” and to “oppose racism, imperialism, sexual oppression, and capitalist oppression.”
“We have launched this new party to tell the truth to black people – that the American system (political, economic, social) does not work in our interests and cannot be made to address our needs without fundamental humanistic change,” wrote National Black Independent Political Party leader, Marxist academic, and Democratic Socialists of America vice-chairperson Manning Marable on December 2, 1980.
“This is a party launched on a vision – a vision of where progressive change must come to benefit the people of African descent who have always been among the most oppressed sector of the American political economy,” Marable wrote.
3. Sued for sexual harassment at NAACP
Chavis became executive director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1993. The following year, the NAACP board voted Chavis out after he made a six-figure deal for the NAACP to pay a settlement to his sexual harassment accuser – without the knowledge of the NAACP board.
“I don’t consider a settlement a payoff” Chavis told the board in his defense.
Then-NAACP board member Enolia McMillan said that Chavis’ “explanations weren’t good enough. . . . I think many of us already had a sense that we couldn’t afford an executive director who first of all wasn’t 100 percent truthful, next he spent the money unwisely.”
4. Sued for sexual harassment at Nation of Islam
Chavis joined the Nation of Islam in 1997 and became “Benjamin Muhammad” after Lois Farrakhan rescued the fallen NAACP leader and put him in charge of the 1995 Million Man March. Benjamin Muhammad became Farrakhan’s New York representative and minister of the Nation’s Mosque No. 7.
But in March 2000, former Nation of Islam volunteer Anita Williams filed a $140 million lawsuit claiming that Mr. Muhammad sexually harassed her and attacked her.
“Complaining that he had not had sex with his wife for six months . . . Chavis suddenly grabbed [Williams’s] breasts while grabbing his erect penis and said, ‘I want to make love with you,'” according to the lawsuit.
“This is the will of Allah that the two of us be together,” Chavis allegedly said before a round of oral sex.
“I warn you, my dear spiritual father, Minister Farrakhan, not to have a nigger like that next to you. Be careful! Make sure everything is on a need-to-know basis because that kinda nigger will sell you out if he can,” former Farrakhan assistant Khallid Abdul Muhammad said of Chavis in 1997.
“I am not currently a member of the Nation of Islam,” Chavis recently said while discussing his prospects to lead the state Democratic Party. “I’m a member, in good standing, of Oak Level United Methodist Church of Christ in Henderson.”