WASHINGTON — Benjamin Jealous, the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said Sunday that he plans to step down by the end of the year.
The Baltimore-based NAACP is the nation’s largest civil rights organization. When Jealous was hired as its president in 2008 at age 35, he became the youngest leader in the group’s history. Over the past five years, the group said its rosters of online activists and donors have grown exponentially.
In a written statement Sunday, Jealous, now 40, said he plans to pursue teaching at a university and wants to spend time with his young family.
“The NAACP has always been the largest civil rights organization in the streets, and today it is also the largest civil rights organization online, on mobile and at the ballot box too,” Jealous said. “I am proud to leave the association financially sound, sustainable, focused, and more powerful than ever.”
Jealous plans to step down on Dec. 31. His departure plans were first reported by USA Today.
During his tenure, the NAACP embraced marriage equality for gays and lesbians as a civil right in an historic May 2012 vote. “Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law,” the group said, citing the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, called Jealous “a modern-day civil rights visionary.”
“Prior to the NAACP’s announcement, no pro-marriage equality initiative had ever succeeded at the ballot box. But thanks in part to the leadership of Ben Jealous, crucial ballot measures in states like Maryland prevailed for the very first time,” said HRC President Chad Griffin, in a statement.
“He believes in his heart that none of us is equal until all of us are equal, and that commitment to justice for all made him an ideal national leader at this decisive moment,” said Griffin
Jealous told The Associated Press recently that a broader coalition would be needed to fight the civil rights battles of the 21st century.
“Last century we needed lawyers; this century we need big, broad coalitions,” he said. “When extremists decide to attack all our communities, they must hope that there will be infighting. But we have stood all for one and one for all. That is how we will win.”
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said Jealous brought an intellectual quality and a level of integrity that won re spect.
“I’m sorry to see him resign, although I understand he has other plans. But, I think he was just getting into his stride,” Lowery said Sunday evening. “I think he brought a luster to the office that was quiet and dignified and effective, and I wish him well in his new work.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he felt “mixed emotions” about Jealous’ announcement, which included sadness because Jealous had led the organization so well.
“Not only was he able to revive the NAACP and raise its budget to higher heights, he joined us in the streets in real civil rights activity on the ground,” Sharpton said in a written statement. “From the ‘suites to the streets,’ he will be missed as head of the NAACP, but I am sure he will not leave us in his contribution to the struggle.”
NAACP Chairman Roslyn Brock accepted Jealous’ resignation in the past week. She said the group would continue its fight to restore part of the Voting Rights Act that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court, as well as work to boost its civic engagement efforts and ensure that black Americans are able to obtain health insurance under the nation’s health care overhaul.
Brock thanked Jealous for his service.
“Under his leadership, the NAACP has built a highly competent staff that will carry our mission forward and meet the civil rights challenges of the 21st century,” she said. “Our board, staff and volunteer leaders throughout the country deeply appreciate his sacrifice and will continue to implement our game-changing goals for the next half century.”