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NAACP leader Benjamin Jealous resigns, will leave in December

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 6:43 AM EDT, Mon September 9, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Voting rights fight is a "generational battle," Jealous tells CNN
  • Jealous says he wants to spend more time with family
  • He advocated for voting rights, gun regulations during his five-year tenure
  • No successor was immediately named

(CNN) -- Benjamin Todd Jealous will step down as president of the NAACP after five years as president of the oldest and largest U.S. civil rights organization, he announced Sunday.

"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 in a statement issued Sunday afternoon. "I am proud to leave the Association financially sound, sustainable, focused, and more powerful than ever."

Jealous, 40, was named president 2008 after working as a community organizer, a newspaper editor and Amnesty International official. He took over from Bruce Gordon, a retired telecommunications executive who clashed with the NAACP's governing board.

In announcing his resignation, he said he wanted to spend "a lot more time with my young family." Jealous and his wife, Lia, have two children, a 1-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter.

"My chair asked me when I called her, she said, 'Well, is there someone who's luring you away?' " Jealous told CNN. "And I said, 'Yes, there is. His name is Jack, and her name is Morgan.' "

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No successor was announced in the statement, in which NAACP board Chairman Roslyn Brock credited Jealous with building a staff able to "meet the civil rights challenges of the 21st century."

During his tenure, Jealous was a prominent voice against laws the NAACP argued made it harder to vote, such as voter-ID laws passed in numerous states in the past several years. Recently, Jealous condemned as "outrageous" the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and lobbied Congress to re-authorize the provisions that the court killed.

"We are on a real fight on voting rights, and it's likely to be a generational battle," he told CNN. "It's being waged against us by people who are fully cognizant that in 2043, this country becomes majority people of color, and they're trying to hold on to the old order for as long as possible."

But he said he was confident that leaders in Congress -- including Democrats like civil rights movement veteran John Lewis and Republicans like James Sensenbrenner, a leading member of the House Judiciary Committee -- support restoring provisions the court struck down. He said the organization's state chapters are strong and that the national organization has doubled its fund-raising take in the past five years.

Jealous also advocated easing restrictions on voting by ex-felons; supported efforts to tighten regulations on gun sales after the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school in December; and was particularly outspoken over the February 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer. He called for the resignation of the police chief in Sanford, Florida, accusing him of mishandling the case by failing to arrest the volunteer, George Zimmerman.

Prosecutors eventually brought second-degree murder charges Zimmerman, who was acquitted in July. The NAACP has called for the federal government to charge Zimmerman with violating Martin's civil rights after the acquittal, which Jealous said left the impression "that our young people have to fear the bad guys and the good guys -- the robbers and the cops and the self-appointed community watch volunteer who thinks that they're keeping folks safer."

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