NAACP local chapter President Minister Rodney Muhammad — and the remainder of the chapter leadership — will be replaced after its executive committee voted Aug. 20 to dissolve itself and allow the national office to assume full leadership, the Philadelphia Tribune reported.
The move was greeted favorably by numerous local Jewish organizations.
Muhammad created an uproar in July when he posted a since-removed anti-Semitic meme on his public Facebook page.
In a statement, the national NAACP said it “will appoint an administrator for the Philadelphia branch to assume overall responsibility for the operation of the branch, its committees and staff, as well as shepherd a transparent transition to new leadership.” An administrator will be appointed by early September, NAACP National President Derrick Johnson said.
Muhammad, 68, is a prominent civil rights figure and Nation of Islam leader with ties to the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque 12 on North Broad Street. He had been local NAACP chapter president since 2014, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Tribune reported that Muhammad issued a statement of apology on Aug. 26.
“I apologize for my previous post and the hurt this has caused, and I regret the insult, pain, and offense it brought to all, especially those of the Jewish community,” Muhammad said. “The coming months are critical for America, and the efforts of both the NAACP and religious communities, working together across the country, are vital for the road ahead of us.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia said Aug. 2 that it would not work with the local NAACP as long as Muhammad was still its president. But Chief Operating Officer Steve Rosenberg said that he was grateful for the national organization’s subsequent action.
“It’s huge. It’s exactly what we asked for and hoped for,” he said.
Rosenberg noted that a lot remains to be done, considering that the local head of a preeminent civil rights organization didn’t understand why the meme was offensive and didn’t immediately apologize.
But Rosenberg was encouraged by the overall support from the African American community, especially at a virtual event Jewish Federation held Aug. 25 with Black religious leaders.
“I was so moved,” he said. “I felt as inspired as I could possibly be.”
Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia Regional Director Shira Goodman also applauded the decision.
“It’s going to be a fresh start for the relationships between the two communities,” she said, adding that while the incident was painful to the Jewish community, more positive will come out of it than negative because connections were located and strengthened.
“The bonds are much stronger than one individual,” she said.
Rosenberg said that while there’s always talk about building bridges, the bridges are already there.
“We have to keep showing people where the bridges are,” he said.
The American Jewish Committee Philadelphia issued a statement in support of the NAACP’s decision.
“Past accomplishments by the Black and Jewish communities are too important to be derailed by Minister Muhammad’s hate. Together, we have the responsibility to call out all bigotry and hate, even when it painfully comes from within one of our own communities,” AJC Philadelphia Director Marcia Bronstein said.
The meme Muhammad posted included a caricature frequently used by white supremacists called “the Happy Merchant,” depicting a hook-nosed man in a yarmulke rubbing his hands together. The offensive caricature was posted alongside photos of Ice Cube, the Philadelphia Eagles’ DeSean Jackson and Nick Cannon, who all had posted anti-Semitic comments on social media.
Beneath their photos, there was a quote — “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize” — attributed to French philosopher Voltaire though it actually originated with Kevin Strom, an American neo-Nazi.
The local NAACP chapter didn’t return telephone calls seeking comment.
9/3/2020: This post has been updated