BALTIMORE — The NAACP chose 35-year-old activist and former news executive Ben Jealous as its president Saturday, making him the youngest leader in the 99-year history of the nation's largest civil rights organization.
The 64-member board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People met for eight hours before selecting Jealous in the early morning. He was formally introduced Saturday afternoon and will take over as president in September.
Jealous currently resides in Alameda with his wife, Lia Epperson, a professor of constitutional law at Santa Clara University, and daughter, Morgan.
"I'm excited," Jealous said. "I think that it's a real affirmation that this organization is willing to invest in the future, to invest in the ideas and the leadership of the generation that is currently raising black children in this country."
Though he is not a politician, minister or civil rights icon, Jealous provides the organization with a young but connected chief familiar with black leadership and social justice issues.
He takes the helm as the NAACP's 17th president just months before the organization's centennial anniversary and as the group looks to boost its coffers.
"There are a small number of groups to whom all black people in this country owe a debt of gratitude, and the NAACP is one of them," Jealous said. "There is work that is undone. ... The need continues and our children continue to be at great risk in this country."
Jealous succeeds Bruce Gordon, who resigned abruptly in March 2007. Gordon left after 19 months, citing clashes with board members over management style and the NAACP's mission as his reasons for leaving. Dennis Courtland Hayes had been serving as interim president and chief executive officer. Jealous was born in Pacific Grove, and educated at Columbia University and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.
He began his professional life in 1991 with the NAACP, where he worked as a community organizer with the Legal Defense Fund working on issues of health care access in Harlem. His family boasts five generations of NAACP membership.
During the mid-1990s, Jealous was managing editor of the Jackson Advocate, Mississippi's oldest black newspaper.
Among his plans for the group are strengthening its online presence to connect with activists, mobilize public opinion and build a database for tracking racial discrimination and hate crimes; ensuring high voter turnout among blacks in the November election; pushing an aggressive civil rights agenda, regardless of the makeup of the Congress or White House; and retooling the national office to make it more effective at helping local branches effect change in their communities.
The Monterey County Herald contributed to this story.