North Carolina NAACP Elects First Woman President

By Avi Bajpai

Deborah Dicks Maxwell, the first woman elected to lead the North Carolina NAACP, says she’s aware of the historical significance of her election, but says she’s focused more on immediate priorities including redistricting, elections in 2022, and strengthening NAACP branches across the state.
Deborah Dicks Maxwell, the first woman elected to lead the North Carolina NAACP, says she’s aware of the historical significance of her election, but says she’s focused more on immediate priorities including redistricting, elections in 2022, and strengthening NAACP branches across the state. Contributed

When Deborah Dicks Maxwell became the first woman president of the North Carolina NAACP last week, she didn’t have much time to reflect on making history.

The last day of early voting in municipal races in New Hanover County, where she lives and served as the president of the local NAACP branch for 10 years, was just a week away. And the final days before Election Day capped a months-long effort to register voters and inform them about their right to vote.

After winning last Saturday, Maxwell said her daughter had to remind her what she had achieved.

“You don’t get it. You made history!” Maxwell recalled her daughter saying.

Maxwell won 54% of the vote in an election for president of the NC state conference of NAACP branches on Oct. 23. She defeated incumbent the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, who received 34% of the vote, and Gemale Black, president of Salisbury-Rowan NAACP, who got 11% of the vote.

A Wilmington native, Maxwell is a retired public health social worker and U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm. In addition to her work for the NAACP, she was one of 24 people appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper to the North Carolina Task Force on Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

In an interview, Maxwell told The News & Observer she knows being the first woman to lead the state conference is significant, but it’s not what she’s focused on right now.

“I’m not thinking at this moment about (being) the first,” Maxwell said. “Just what lies ahead.”

In the immediate term, one of the N.C. NAACP’s main priorities is redistricting, Maxwell said.

On Friday, after considering several draft maps that would determine districts for the General Assembly and North Carolina’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, GOP lawmakers introduced the final maps they are proposing for the N.C. Senate and congressional districts.

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Around an hour later, the N.C. NAACP and Common Cause, a government watchdog group, announced they had filed a lawsuit asking a state superior court in Wake County to intervene in the process before the legislature votes on any maps.

The lawsuit challenges Republican lawmakers’ decision not to use racial data in drawing the maps, which civil rights groups say will make it harder for voters of color to elect politicians who represent them.

“One only has to look at the maps and see that it’s not constitutional,” Maxwell said. “It’s a faulty, unconstitutional process because it does not look at race, which then impacts people all across the state.”

The lawsuit filed on Friday doesn’t specifically target the maps themselves, but asks that the redistricting process be redone this fall under new rules.

Beyond this particular redistricting cycle, however, Maxwell said there is a need to reform how the state’s political districts are redrawn in the future.

“We know that whoever is in power in the state of North Carolina draws maps to suit themselves,” Maxwell said. That will continue until the current process is replaced by an “independent or impartial way of doing this,” she said.

Voter turnout, strengthening NAACP branches

In addition to redistricting, Maxwell said the NAACP’s other priorities will include focusing on next year’s midterm elections, which have “historically been lower voter turnout,” and strengthening branches across North Carolina.

“The power of the NAACP does not reside in the state office; it resides in the power of all those local presidents and branches throughout the state,” Maxwell said.

Several Black women have been elected or appointed to leadership positions across the Triangle and North Carolina in recent years.

Asked about the trend, Maxwell said it will continue as the population become more diverse. But it’s also important to remember Black women who came before current office-holders, she said, like former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton, who in 1992 became the first African-American to represent North Carolina in Congress in more than 90 years.

“It’s not something that just started; it’s just a continuation of what had already begun,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said she remembers being taught as a social worker that “we have to be at the table to impact policy.”

In her new role at the NAACP, she said she’ll continue encouraging North Carolinians to participate in the policy-making process.

“People in North Carolina have to be more active, locally, statewide, and I sincerely hope that will happen,” she said.

This story was originally published November 1, 2021 11:51 AM.

Source : https://www.charlotteobserver.com/article255410881.html

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