Evanston NAACP to regulate contact with media

Matt Donnelly

The executive committee of the NAACP’s Evanston/North Shore Branch met in a closed meeting Monday that resulted in the formation of a publicity committee to regulate contact with the media.

Although no one outside of the executive committee, including general members, was allowed in the meeting, sources on the committee told The Daily that the meeting’s agenda included discussing the group’s role in protesting the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 plan to build on the green space north of the Martin Luther King Laboratory School.

Chapter president Bennett Johnson said the committee named members Iris Johnson and Hollis Settles to head the group’s publicity in response to recent articles that referred negatively to the branch’s leadership.

A Chicago Tribune column last week reported on rumors that some branch members are upset with Johnson’s actions as president. The Evanston Beacon, a newspaper operated by Evanston resident and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People member Sidney Zwick, recently published a strong criticism of Johnson’s office.

Johnson said the publicity committee was created “because of the irresponsible reporting and contact with the media up until now.”

He declined to comment on other matters discussed during the meeting.

Evanston resident Tana McDonald, a member of the branch executive committee, also declined to discuss the content of the meeting.

“We took a vote not to discuss things at this particular point,” McDonald said. “There isn’t really anything newsworthy about it.”

Neither Johnson nor McDonald commented on any discussion of the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association dispute with District 65. At the last general meeting, the branch voted to support the protest and help assess the economic impact of the building.

Some NAACP general members expressed some concern about the meeting’s secretive tone.

Zwick and Evanston resident Peggy Tarr both were denied entry to the meeting.

“They consider it an internal affair, but it’s not, because of what Bennett Johnson is doing,” Zwick said.

Zwick said he demanded to see what provision in the chapter’s bylaws would allow Monday’s meeting of the executive committee to be closed, but was not allowed.

“I am not even sure they have any bylaws,” Zwick said.

Zwick said he also spoke to Julian Bond, chairman of the board for the NAACP, about the problems within the chapter, but he said he did not expect to get much help from the national office.

Zwick and other members sent complaints to both The New York Times and The Baltimore Sunday, in hopes of generating attention to the branch.

Evanston resident and NAACP chapter secretary Rose Cannon declined to comment on problems within the chapter, but did express one concern central to much of the conflict.

Concerns about Johnson calling a meeting without the general membership also appeared in a complaint filed against him by three members in late January.

The complaint has been sent to the national office, but Tarr said problems with the complaint’s procedure have prevented an official response.

The complaint also raises questions about the branch’s financial accountability, specifically the handling of NAACP job fair funds.

Johnson has said the complaints are unfounded and irrelevant.