Rochester's Roots: What happened to the local chapter of the NAACP?

Lynette Adams
Updated: February 12, 2020 06:54 AM
Created: February 11, 2020 04:12 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For years, the local chapter of the NAACP fought discriminatory practices in the community. But, Rochester's chapter folded nearly a decade ago when the president became ill. 

Courtney Thomas Jr., a legislative aide with the Rochester City Council and community activist, told News10NBC a year ago about a website he created to drum up support to re-launch the local chapter of the NAACP in Rochester. 

"Over the past year, it's been a pretty great experience meeting the community," Thomas said.

Thomas says he has been able to engage people through the website and garner interest and enthusiasm. What has been challenging: taking all of that to the next level.

"It's been an awesome time rallying the community and seeing that there is an interest in the NAACP," Thomas said. "The difficulty has been getting people to step into those leadership and administrative roles."

A year later, Rochester still does not have an NAACP chapter, not even an executive board.

"There's no real kind of excuse per se," Thomas said. "It's more in the subtle actions of being able to support by giving me your phone number or email address, or saying I'll buy this membership, and I'll make sure I'm a member of the NAACP."

Founded in 1910, the NAACP is considered the nation's premier civil rights organization taking on everything from the lynchings of African Americans in the early years to educational and employment issues.

According to the NAACP directory, there are 52 chapters in New York, and Rochester is the only large city in the state without a chapter.

"More people were willing to do it two decades ago because they felt that there was a purpose," Lucile Mallard, president of the NAACP's Geneva chapter said. 

Mallard has been the president of the Geneva chapter for two decades. She says her executive board works hard, and Thomas' experience is not unique.

"We have the membership, but as far as people taking leadership roles and coming out and participating in meetings, that's where the struggle is," Mallard said. "That's when I can say I feel like a one-man show."

Mallard says many people don't consider the NAACP relevant, but she says it couldn't be more relevant at a time when hate crimes seem to be on the rise. She also questions the role of the black church. 

"The movement started in the black churches," Mallard says. "We have a few preachers, elders involved in social justice, and then there are some who are afraid to mention it in their church. If they don't start mentioning it in their church, then the church will not get involved."

As for Thomas, he says he is not giving up.

"I know that there's still excitement, and there's still a recognized need," Thomas said. "It feels like a disappointment, but it's not."

Learn more about joining an NAACP chapter in New York here.

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