NAACP revives branch in St. Petersburg

New officers have been elected. Why it was shuttered in 2014 has still never been publicly said.

Maria L. Scruggs was elected president of the NAACP's St. Petersburg branch.
Maria L. Scruggs was elected president of the NAACP's St. Petersburg branch.
Published September 4 2015
Updated September 6 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg's NAACP branch is in the midst of a revival.

One year after the branch was mysteriously shuttered by the national office, the local branch installed new officers Thursday night after an election held at McCabe United Methodist Church.

"It is finding its legs again," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, a past president of the local branch and a member of the new executive committee.

The committee elected as president Maria L. Scruggs, a longtime St. Petersburg resident who joined the local branch at age 16. Scruggs said she was asked by a former branch president, Ray Tampa, to run for the position.

"After praying about it and talking to others in the community I realized I had a broad base of support and decided to actually take the challenge," said Scruggs, who is a manager for Orange County's Community Corrections division.

Scruggs and the rest of the officers were elected without opposition. Robert Harrison is first vice president, Corey Givens Jr. is second vice president and Bill Puller is treasurer.

The branch's trouble began last September, when state NAACP officials ordered the local branch to suspend all activities because, according to a letter, the group was not in "good standing." The then-president, the Rev. Manuel Sykes, was told to turn in building keys, property and records.

Questions swirled for months. State records listed the branch as inactive. A padlock prevented anyone from getting into the parking lot at the branch's headquarters at 16th Street and 15th Avenue S.

In July, NAACP Florida State Conference president Adora Obi Nweze said the branch was in the process of reorganizing and would be soon reactivated, but officials have never publicly disclosed what prompted the branch's suspension. State and national officials could not be reached Friday.

Scruggs said she doesn't know much about the specifics, but was told she would be briefed soon on the branch's financial situation and the status of its building.

"I don't see the operational and logistical issues as an insurmountable challenge," she said. "What I do see as a challenge is building the trust of the community, and that's the most crucial issue at hand. We have some proving and some work to do, and I'm certainly up to it."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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