Marcus Ray is a licensed funeral director. But these days, he’s trying to prevent something from dying — Kentucky’s best-known civil rights organization.
“We’re trying to bring back the branches that are dormant,” the state President of the NAACP said during a visit to Madisonville Thursday night. He estimates slightly more than half of the commonwealth’s 75 branches fit that description.
Ray says the organization faces a nationwide age problem, as many young adults who haven’t lived through “the struggle” of the 20th century civil rights movement aren’t interested in joining.
“The average age in a branch is about 68,” Ray said. “The organization itself is getting old.”
Ray said one of his goals is to recruit millennial members. He encouraged members to “light a torch” inside them, especially with help from churches.
“There’s nothing any different today than it was in 1965, when I was born,” he said. “It’s got a different name on it.”
Ray offered a Black History Month perspective on the NAACP’s slow decline. He said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 “put us on cruise control to the promised land.”
Then the organization drifted, he said, even after Barack Obama was elected President.
“We asked him for nothing,” Ray said. “We basked in the glow of having the first African-American President,” while other political groups demanded Obama deliver on campaign promises.
Ray spoke to a chapter potentially at risk of dormancy. Thursday night marked the Madisonville Hopkins County branch’s first meeting in months. Exactly how many months was unclear; no one had minutes to confirm if the last meeting occurred in August or September.
Ray’s audience was the chapter’s executive committee. Nine people showed up, out of 31 on the total general membership rolls. Ray recited NAACP rules about that.
“If you don’t have a meeting in three months,” Ray said, “the branch offices should be declared vacant” with new elections.
Ray’s words convicted the chapter secretary. She resigned on the spot.
“I have too much on my plate,” Jackie Bard said. She lives in Central City, where the Muhlenberg County chapter has become inactive from older members dying.
Under NAACP rules, the next election for branch officers should take place next fall. Ray said people have to be members by Wednesday, April 1 to seek a branch office.
Ray drove to Madisonville from Frankfort. He says the restoration of voting rights for convicted criminals is a major issue for the Kentucky NAACP in this year’s legislative session.
“We ask these people to remain second-class citizens after they serve their time,” Ray said after addressing the local branch. “We think that should be automatically restored.”
Gov. Andy Beshear restored voting rights for more than 140,000 convicted felons in December by an executive order. He wants a constitutional amendment to make that policy permanent.
Ray added the NAACP does not endorse political candidates, so will not back anyone in this year’s U.S Senate election.