Cautioning the Compton branch of the NAACP that it is "part of the structure," a national director of the civil rights group chastised the local leadership Sunday for engaging in a public power struggle against a perceived "coup" by a local developer.
William H. Penn, director of branch and field services, met with the Compton branch's executive board members to assure them that he would investigate allegations that activist and developer Danny Bakewell organized a questionable membership drive to seize control of an organization that has attacked his business dealings.
But he also said he is "quite concerned and really upset with the way this branch has handled the situation. You are not just an isolated branch out in Compton, you are part of a structure."
Many executive board members expressed dismay when Penn said the national NAACP could not stop an outsider from taking over the branch without proof of actual wrongdoing, and ordered them not to discuss the case with reporters.
"I am supposed to eat crow?" asked member Eugene Mitchell. "I am supposed to shut up?"
"You are supposed to have the best interests of the NAACP at heart," replied Penn, to groans.
It was the latest chapter in a local struggle that has troubled many politically active Compton residents and forced the NAACP's national leadership to intervene.
Last week, Penn suspended the chapter's election of officers, which had been set for Saturday. It would not be rescheduled without a "thorough review of the situation."
The suspension was apparently prompted by a letter that Compton branch president Royce Esters sent to the NAACP's new national president, Kweisi Mfume.
In it, Esters alleged that Bakewell has conspired with NAACP regional director Ernestine Peters to take over the chapter and replace its leaders with candidates handpicked by Bakewell.
Bakewell could not be reached for comment.
The Compton NAACP has said that Bakewell, an advocate of black economic opportunity, undermined efforts to save a local black-owned business that was one of Bakewell's tenants.
Esters said the Compton chapter has been recently flooded with hundreds of new applications for membership, some from as far away as Las Vegas, where the NAACP has a chapter.