- Former President of the NAACP
- Former Representative for Maryland's 7th Congressional District
- Filed lawsuit against gun manufacturers, charging that gun crimes targeting blacks are the responsibility of firearm producers
- Supported New York mayoral candidacy of Al Sharpton
Born Frizzell Gerald Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in October 1948, Kweisi Mfume is a former President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was also a five-term Democratic member of the House of Representatives, representing Maryland’s 7th congressional district from 1987 to 1997. It was in the early 1970s that he changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, which means “conquering son of kings” in a West African dialect.
A high-school drop out, Mfume’s early life was marked by numerous hardships and run-ins with the law. When he was thirteen, his stepfather abandoned the family; three years later his mother died of cancer. Soon thereafter, Mfume joined a street gang. He was incarcerated on more than one occasion, and he fathered five children with four different women.
At age 23, Mfume obtained his GED and began taking courses at the Community College of Baltimore, where he served as head of the Black Student Union. He then transferred to Morgan State University, graduating in 1976. He went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Johns Hopkins University in 1984.
Mfume began his career in politics by serving on the Baltimore City Council in 1978. In November 1986 he was elected to the U.S House of Representatives, where he would hold his seat for a decade. During that period, Mfume was a staunch, consistent advocate of racial preferences in employment and education; i.e., the policy widely known as affirmative action. He spent some time as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and as chairman of the CBC Task Force on Affirmative Action.
In 1996 Mfume was elected President and CEO of the NAACP, America’s largest and oldest civil rights organization. Under his leadership, the NAACP continued its growing tradition of ascribing an enormous array of problems afflicting black people to America’s allegedly rampant, undiminished racism.
In 1997 Mfume supported the New York City mayoral candidacy of Al Sharpton. Shortly after election day (when Sharpton’s bid for office failed), Mfume asked his organization’s members to send money to the NAACP for the express purpose of helping future Democratic candidates oust Republicans from key political offices. This was in direct violation of the NAACP’s own charter, which declares the organization to be a nonpartisan entity that -- like other tax-exempt groups -- neither endorses nor opposes particular political candidates.
In 1998 Mfume was a signatory to a public letter addressed to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, declaring that “the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself.” Other signers included Tammy Baldwin, Rev. William Sloan Coffin, Jr., Walter Cronkite, Morton H. Halperin, Peter Lewis, George Soros, and Cornel West.
Also in 1998, Mfume lent his name to the Statement of Principles of the New Century Alliance for Social Security, a coalition of groups -- spearheaded by Institute for America’s Future -- that opposed the privatization of Social Security. Other signers included John Sweeney, Steven Kest, Mike Farrell, Roger Hickey, Marian Wright Edelman, Patricia Ireland, Norman Lear, Raul Yzaguirre, Robert Reich, Susan Shaer, Jesse Jackson, Eleanor Smeal, Brent Blackwelder, Nancy Duff Campbell, Heather Booth, and Andrew Stern.
In 1999 Mfume announced that because blacks comprised “a significant constituency that is disproportionately affected by gun violence,” his organization would file a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. “Easily available handguns,” he declared, “are being used to turn many of our communities into war zones.”
In the summer of 1999, Mfume threatened to boycott the major television networks because “none of the … new shows for the [upcoming] fall season have a minority for a lead or starring role.” This claim, however, was demonstrably untrue. CBS, NBC, ABC, and the Fox Network all had programs with major black characters slated for the fall season.
In the 2000 presidential election season, Mfume and the NAACP sponsored a political ad implying that Republican candidate George W. Bush was a racist. Over black and white video footage of a pickup truck dragging a chain, the daughter of James Byrd -- a black Texas man who in 1998 had been had chained to the back of a truck and dragged to his death by three white men -- declared that “when [Texas] Gov. George W. Bush refused to sign hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.”
In 2002 Mfume led an NAACP delegation to Communist Cuba “to learn more about [that nation’s] education and health systems.” He embraced Marxist dictator Fidel Castro and urged the U.S. to open channels of trade with Cuba.
At the NAACP's national convention in July 2004, Mfume told a black audience: "When the ultraconservative right-wing attacker has run out of attack strategy, he goes and gets someone that looks like you and me to continue the attacks. And like the ventriloquist's dummies, they sit there in the puppet master's voice, but we can see whose lips are moving, and we can hear his money talk." "They can't deal with the leaders we choose for ourselves," added Mfume, "so they manufacture, promote and hire new ones."
In November 2004 the NAACP announced that Mfume would soon be leaving the organization in order to “pursue new challenges in media, politics and business.” But in truth, Mfume was forced to leave as a result of a bitter, protracted feud with NAACP chairman Julian Bond. Their conflict had begun when Mfume nominated George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice for the 2003 NAACP Image Award, a move that infuriated Bond, who countered by nominating “Boondocks” cartoonist Aaron McGruder, who, in his comic strip, had dubbed Rice a “murderer” for her role in the Iraq War. Tensions between Mfume and Bond continued to escalate when the former demonstrated a willingness to reach out to the Republican Party, rather than to automatically support Democrats in every election.
Mfume’s tenure as NAACP President officially ended on January 1, 2005. Two months later, he announced his intent to run for the U.S. Senate, a bid that would prove to be unsuccessful.
In February 2005 Mfume joined former President Bill Clinton, movie director Spike Lee, Marxist professor Cornel West, and entertainer Harry Belafonte in eulogizing the deceased African American actor and political activist Ossie Davis.
In April 2005 Mfume found himself embroiled in scandal when the Associated Press reported that according to a confidential NAACP memo, Mfume had given raises and promotions to female employees with whom he had engaged in sexual relations during his tenure as the organization’s President.
In October 2005 Mfume lent support to Louis Farrakhan’s Millions More Movement. Other supporters included the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Coretta Scott King, Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, Malik Zulu Shabazz, Marion Barry, Julianne Malveaux, Maulana Karenga, Leonard Jeffries, the National Urban League, Al Sharpton, Julian Bond, Carol Moseley-Braun, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the New Black Panther Party, the National Bar Association, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Russell Simmons, Jesse Jackson, the National Council of Negro Women, Kanye West, the Congressional Black Caucus, and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.
In 2008 Mfume endorsed Senator Barack Obama for U.S. President. Mfume took an active role in Obama’s campaign, signing up as a volunteer during the Primary season and stumping for the candidate.
Politically, Mfume is in favor of allowing states to recognize gay marriage; replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment; and instituting a universal, government-run health care system for all Americans. He has been critical of policy initiatives aimed at curbing illegal immigration, and he charges that the Patriot Act anti-terrorism legislation has caused “thousands of individuals [to be] denied their basic civil rights.” A vocal critic of the Iraq War, Mfume claims that the Bush administration “deliberately” and “maliciously” lied to the American public about the urgency of deposing Saddam Hussein. He characterizes the war as “illegal,” and he has called for a swift withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
 Eric Mink, “NAACP Stirs Nets’ Response,” New York Daily News (July 14, 1999), p. 73. Lawrie Mifflin, “NAACP Plans to Press for More Diverse TV Shows, The New York Times (July 13, 1999). Hannity and Colmes television broadcast, Fox News Channel (July 13, 1999).