Judge Carlos Moore, Freedom Fund Luncheon keynoter, said given the "State of Black America" it is time for a "new deal." (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Recently named the “best local branch in the nation,” the Memphis Branch NAACP used Saturday’s Freedom Fun Luncheon to signal a resolve to double down on a longstanding commitment to fighting for equity for African-American people.

Nearly 1,000 supporters gathered at the Memphis Hilton Hotel for the organization’s first, in-person fundraiser since the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Van Turner Jr., the Memphis Branch NAACP president, drew thunderous applause when he announced that the local branch had been named “the best local branch in the nation” at the 2022 NAACP National Convention held in Atlantic City, N.J. on July 14-20.

The recognition served as a measure of the effectiveness of the Memphis Branch NAACP and came amid calls for renewed commitment to fight against attacks on civil liberties.

The Freedom Fund Luncheon is the primary fundraiser for the local NAACP group. This year’s theme was “The State of Black America,” with multiple speakers – directly and indirectly – echoing the need for heightened awareness and activism to fight the aggressive assault on voting rights, civil rights, and the rights of women.

At a press conference ahead of the fundraiser, Judge Carlos Moore, immediate past president of the National Bar Association, effectively spoke to the event’s theme. While focusing on African-American attorneys and judges, he made it clear that he assessed that the State of Black America warranted action.

“Black attorneys and judges in American courtrooms must have the courage of their convictions and do what they know is right,” said Moore of Grenada, Miss. “Our judges on the bench must do what is right.”

Some of the most crucial issues affecting Black America, said Moore, are the alarming rollback of voting rights, persistent police brutality across the country, and reparations for America’s slavery past.

Including racial healthcare disparity among those issues, Moore said COVID-19 did not create the disparity; only exposed it.

Turner, who touted the organization’s storied history of fighting racial discrimination and its effects through legal activism in the courts, gave a present-tense example of the ongoing commitment.

“We don’t mind suing people, and we do that very well,” said Turner. “Attorney Andre Wharton is here, along with the parents of Brandon Calloway, the young man who was beaten (recently) inside the family home by Oakland, (Tennessee) police officers. We are supporting them in the fight to see justice done. There is a legal redress.”

Turner also vowed that the fight would continue against school vouchers. This comes as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee pushes forward in rolling out his long-blocked school voucher program following a judge’s ruling lifting an injunction that had prevented it from being put into effect.

“We are suing the state over the voucher program,” said Turner. “We lost the battle, but not the war. …

“We will keep fighting as we stand on the shoulders of Vasco Smith, Maxine Smith, Ben Hooks,” said Turner, referencing iconic Memphis Branch NAACP figures. “The NAACP as a civil rights organization is still important, still relevant to the fight.”

The courts, he said, remain an important battleground in addressing issues plaguing “Black America.”

Moore’s keynote praised historic court battles such as Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. The landmark 1954 Supreme Court case established that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It helped establish the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not at all equal.

“There has been great value in championing timeless, legal causes,” said Moore. “Beam by beam, brick by brick, the segregation and racial equality that keeps black and brown people on their knees, have been torn down through court challenges.”

Moore said considering the state of Black America means it’s time for a new deal.

“Not the ‘New Deal’ of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, where he conveniently forgot the suffering of Black people,” said Moore. “It’s time for a new deal, enacting John Lewis’ voting rights package to combat voter suppression all over the nation…

“It’s time for a new deal, holding police officers accountable for their behavior; a new deal that will end the modern-day lynching of our people. It’s time for a new deal, with the study of reparations for our people. It is up to the NAACP to put together that new deal.”

Historically, a highlight of the annual Freedom Fund Luncheon has been the naming of President’s Award winners. The 2022 President’s Award Recipients are:

*Hazel Moore – the founder of Academy for Youth Empowerment, a successful businesswoman, and the “Mayor of Whitehaven.”

*Robert Lipscomb – former head of Memphis Housing and Community Development and the Memphis Housing Authority. He is credited for his role in replacing run-down public housing projects with newly built, mixed-income communities.

*Beverly Robertson – the first African American to serve as president of the Greater Memphis Chamber and former president of the National Civil Rights Museum. During her tenure, $43 million was raised for the museum, including an $11-million expansion.

*Ronald A. Walter – former and longtime president and general manager of WREG-TV; former VP of Customer Relations of MLGW; former member of the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors.