ANOTHER LONG-SERVING NAACP
OFFICER SUSPENDED WITHOUT A
By Cash Michaels
O’Linda Watkins-McSurely has been a faithful NAACP member for 30 years. She served as the chair of Women in NAACP (WIN) from 2005 to 2017, assistant secretary of the NC NAACP for ten years, and president of the Moore County NAACP chapter #5421 for 26 years.
She is also a Life Member.
Her credentials as a devoted NAACP member and freedom fighter are without question, those who know Watkins-McSurely, and have worked with her, say.
So imagine Mrs. Watkins-McSurely’s surprise when she received an Oct. 25th letter from NAACP Pres./CEO Derrick Johnson, stating that after her hearing, she had been suspended for five years.
“What hearing?” Watkins-McSurely thought to herself as she read the troubling letter.
According to Johnson’s missive to Mrs. Watkins-McSurely, “Following your request for a hearing, a panel of three NAACP Board members was convened and a hearing was held on June 21, 2023. You participated fully and actively in the hearing.”
The national NAACP letter to Mrs. Watkins-McSurely continued, “Following the hearing and the panel’s deliberations, the panel submitted its findings and recommendations to the Committee on Membership and Units of the NAACP National Board of Directors. The committee subsequently made recommendations to the full NAACP Board of Directors.”
If the fact that the NAACP letter from Derrick Johnson claiming that she “…participated fully and actively in the hearing” wasn’t stunning enough, Watkins-McSurely was further floored to learn from the NAACP letter that the national NAACP Board of Directors, at its October 21st meeting, voted to accept the recommendation of its committee, and “…suspend (Watkins-McSurely) for five years for noncompliance with regulations and Bylaws for Units, failure to adhere to cease-and-desist as provided by the Office of the General Counsel, making defamatory statements against the National NAACP, and the North Carolina State Conference NAACP, and other conduct which is inimical to the Association.”
“At the completion of the suspension, you must petition the committee and request reinstatement of your membership,” the national NAACP letter concluded.
O’Linda Watkins-McSurely is clear that she has never taken part in an NAACP hearing to answer the charges brought against her as cited in the NAACP letter. Indeed, as an NAACP member of long and good standing, the Bylaws and Constitution cite that she is entitled to due process, just as in a court of law.
As far as Mrs. Watkins-McSurely is concerned, she never got a hearing, thus, never got due process. And yet, after 30 years as a faithful member, she is drummed out for five long years.
Why did this happen in the first place?
According to a Sept. 15th letter from her attorney and husband, Alan McSurely, to NAACP General Counsel Janette McCarthy Wallace, Mrs. Watkins-McSurely received a call on Sept. 9th from an executive assistant at NAACP Headquarters asking if she still wanted a hearing. Watkins-McSurely replied that she would have her attorney respond after they had time to study the case file.
What case was she referring to?
Reportedly, the national NAACP office took umbrage with Ms. Watkins-McSurely appearing on local television news coverage distributing food to elderly people in Moore County in early December 2022, after two electric power stations were knocked out by gunfire.
Allegedly, the national NAACP office did not appreciate Ms. Watkins-McSurely identifying herself in connection with the NAACP while appearing on television news coverage, and threatened to suspend her accordingly.
The Sept. 15th attorney’s letter to the National NAACP documents, however, that as of that date, Mrs. Watkins-McSurely still did not have her hearing on the matter.
In fact, her husband/attorney Alan McSurely wrote, “I hope we can hold the promised Hearing to “this matter” [the National NAACP] used as a basis to try to remove her from her Life Membership and her NAACP work, the center of her life.”
This reporter emailed Carmen Watkins, senior vice president, Field Operations & Membership, and Quincy Bates, another top ranking NAACP official, asking them how is it possible Pres./CEO Johnson could send Mrs. Watkins-McSurely stating that she took part in a membership hearing that determined her suspension, when, in fact, she and her attorney deny that a due process ever took place.
This reporter also requested either written, audio or visual confirmation of O’Linda Watkins-McSurely ever being present at a hearing where her membership was at issue.
There has been no response from the national NAACP by press time.
Mrs. Watkins-McSurely isn’t the only long serving NAACP official to be suspended long-term without a hearing. In March of this year, we exclusively reported on the long-term suspension of Ms. Sylvia Barnes, long time NC NAACP secretary. Ms. Barnes was adamant that despite a letter from Pres./CEO Johnson alleging that she was, she never had a due process hearing before being let go.
The same pattern has happened to other veteran NAACP members across the state, our reporting has determined.
JUSTICE EARLS’ LAWSUIT
HAS FEDERAL COURT
By Cash Michaels
There is nothing the 14-member NC Judicial Standards Commission (NCJSC) would rather see than NC Associate Justice Anita Earls’ federal lawsuit against it just go away.
Make no mistake, that’s what their attorneys are expected to ask for in federal court in Greensboro today as Justice Earls’ motion for a preliminary injunction was scheduled to be heard.
Called “Justice Earl’s First Amendment Case” the NC Supreme Court’s only African-American, and one of two Democrats on the seven-member court, is demanding that the NCJSC cease investigating her for interviews and speeches she’s given over the past year critical of the state High Court’s Republican majority and it’s management of the court.
Earls maintains she has a First Amendment right to speak out if she determines something is wrong with North Carolina’s highest court of justice.
“Since the Commission’s investigations into me, I have been constrained at all times to subject my public speech to internal scrutiny and self-censorship in a manner which I never previously did,” Earls stated in court papers.
“I find myself constantly engaging in self-censorship,” Earls continued. “This has occurred at a Democratic Party event, at the law school class I teach at the University of North Carolina, at a meeting with the Governor’s Pages who came to learn about our court, and even at church.”
Apparently Earls is not alone in her free speech beliefs. According to published reports, at least 16 civil rights organizations - including the NC NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and the League of Women Voters NC - and 20 legal ethics experts from distinguished law schools like Georgetown, Cornell and Northwestern, have filed legal briefs in support of her case.
“The Commission’s investigation is …improper because it violates Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights,” the legal experts separate brief declared.
“As an elected official, Plaintiff has the right, and indeed the obligation, to speak on matters of public concern, as she did here. The chilling effect imposed by this investigation on Plaintiff’s speech—and on the speech of other judges who seek to fulfill their ethical obligations through commentary that may be critical of the judiciary itself—cannot withstand the strict scrutiny mandated for a state’s restrictions on core political speech like that at issue here.”
The NCJSC is having none of those plaintiff’s arguments, however.
It filed motions in early October seeking to dismiss Earls' lawsuit, and stop her petition for a preliminary injunction. In papers submitted to federal court, NCJSC denied it was denying Justice Earls her right to free speech with its investigations, and there is a judicial code she is expected to maintain while serving on the bench.
That code prohibits her from demeaning the court in anyway, th NCJSC maintains.
“…[N]o judge should make unsupported accusations that a colleague is making decisions based on prejudices or biases, rather than the law and facts,” the NCJSC stated to the court.
It is not known when the federal court will rule after today’s hearing.