NAACP chief Mfume resigns
Credited with turning around nation's largest civil rights group
BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- Kweisi Mfume, the president and chief executive officer of the NAACP for the past nine years, resigned Tuesday, saying he wants to spend more time with his family.
"I have decided, with the understanding and the permission of our board of directors, to step down from the presidency of the oldest and largest civil rights organization in our country," he told reporters in Baltimore, site of the 96-year-old organization's headquarters.
Mfume, 56, took over the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1996 and was credited with turning around the civil rights organization after turbulent times in the early 1990s.
He left Congress, where he led the Congressional Black Caucus, to take the job, saying he felt he could better serve African-Americans as head of the NAACP.
He took the reins from Benjamin Chavis, who had left the organization in disgrace in 1994 over charges that he used NAACP funds to quiet sexual harassment allegations against him at a time when the group was mired in debt.
Mfume said he has accomplished much of what he sought to do: The group's cash reserves now exceed $15 million, and the organization has a "clear sense of mission and mandate."
Mfume said he is in good health and that his departure has nothing to do with internal politics at the organization, "so let me put that to rest."
He said he plans to spend time with his youngest son, who is 14.
"I don't want to miss another basketball game, and I don't want to be absent from another PTA meeting," he said, his voice cracking.
Mfume said he has not decided what his next professional role will be.
"I just need a break. I need a vacation and I haven't had one in a couple of years, so I'm just not going to do anything for a while."
He left open the possibility that he would seek public office once again, but said that was not his motivation for leaving.
"It's really not about me necessarily looking at an office to run for," he said. "If that happens, it happens. But that's not part of the grand design today."
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said the board members accepted Mfume's resignation Monday night "with great sorrow."
Mfume said he will continue "for the next five or six months" to serve as a consultant to the group, of which general counsel Dennis Hayes will be acting president and CEO.
Bond said he hopes a successor can be announced at the group's national meeting, to be held in July in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
About Mfume's tenure, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told CNN, "He brought stability to our organization."
In a written statement, Jackson hailed Mfume as "a major force in protecting affirmative action, a key to access and opportunity. ... He leaves the NAACP stronger than he found it."
I don't want to miss another basketball game, and I don't want to be absent from another PTA meeting.
-- Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called Mfume "a distinguished leader who championed the rights of all Americans."
Mfume acknowledged that one area of failure has been the group's relations with the White House, but he expressed hope that they could still improve.
Four years ago, he said, he sent a letter to the newly elected president expressing the hope that he could begin his administration "on a friendly basis" with the NAACP.
"That letter was not responded to," Mfume said. "We are hopeful for an answer."
Mfume said he got a call early Tuesday from White House senior adviser Karl Rove extending his best wishes on behalf of Bush, who was en route to Canada.
"I appreciated the gesture," Mfume said.
Mfume's story is one of success against steep odds: He described himself as a high school dropout born into poverty whose mother died when he was 16, who was at times homeless and was arrested 13 times as a gang member before he "miraculously found himself."
The Baltimore native went on to graduate magna cum laude from Morgan State University and earned a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University.
He entered public service in 1979, winning a seat on the Baltimore City Council by three votes. He held that seat for seven years, leading efforts to diversify city government, improve community safety and enhance minority business development.
Riding that success, he ran for Congress in 1986 and won easily, holding his seat until he took over the NAACP. While in Congress, he consistently advocated civil rights and minority business legislation and was a co-sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mfume's West African name means "conquering son of kings."