ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg NAACP re-elected Maria Scruggs president Thursday, despite a campaign to oust her.
Scruggs, 61, had been criticized for her leadership style and interaction with some of the area's elected leaders and others in the community.
Thursday evening, though, she overcame a challenge from the Rev. G. Gregg Murray, senior pastor of Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church. He had pledged to return respectability and unity to the local group.
Cassandra Jackson, who supported Scruggs, said before Thursday night's election that Murray had been appointed chair of the branch's religious affairs committee, but had abandoned his responsibility. She defended Scruggs, who detractors said posted incendiary messages on Facebook.
"People have the right to their opinions. I don't do Facebook, but I hear she can be straightforward and that's her personality.... With the mission of the NAACP, sometimes you have to speak truth to power," Jackson said.
"The mission of the NAACP is not to be buddy-buddy with individuals where there is injustice. It is to provoke change in housing, economic development, education. (Those against Scruggs) believe that we should sit down and all kumbaya. That's not going to work. After 100 years, we are still talking about injustice in education, in economic development."
Carol McNamee, who sits on the education committee and travels from Safety Harbor to participate in the group, is another supporter.
"I believe that Maria Scruggs has the community's well-being at heart," she said. "I cannot say what other people's motivation is, but I do know Maria's motivation and I have experienced working with her."
Scruggs had said that Murray and those who backed him had not been active in the branch and only got involved to vote her out of office.
She denied that the NAACP branch was in turmoil.
"We would certainly not have been able to accomplish what we accomplished at all," she said.
"One of the things we have done is we advocate directly on behalf of students and employees, where we actually go into the schools and meet with the administrators," she said. The branch has also launched an advocacy for reading campaign in Pinellas County, raised more than $100,000 for its Freedom Fund and awarded more than $6,000 in scholarships, she said.
The NAACP branch has been mired in dissension in recent months, with complaints made to the national office about the election process and a dispute concerning Murray's membership and eligibility to run for office. The national organization decided to run the election itself and sent a representative to St. Petersburg on Thursday.
In 2014, the national office suspended the branch as the group prepared to elect its executive officers. The reason was never publicly divulged. Scruggs became president in 2015, after the branch was activated.
Don Brown, first vice president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, was also present for Thursday's election, which was held at McCabe United Methodist Church. Brown said he will return to train the new officers and will continue to monitor the branch to make sure it settles down.