It’s technically the California State Conference of the NAACP, but it could easily be called “The House That Alice Huffman Built.”
Dr. Huffman, considered one of the state’s most powerful political voices, is stepping down as head of the California/Hawaii NAACP. Citing health concerns, she’s resigning after 21 years at the helm. Her departure is effective December 1.
“I’m a person who believes in building infrastructure, so I did a lot to build up the NAACP,” Dr. Huffman shared with The Sacramento OBSERVER.
In 2000, she became the first woman to ever hold her post. Two years later she was elected to the National NAACP board of directors, representing Region I. She has provided leadership to the Democratic National Convention, co-chaired the Rules Committee for the California Democratic Party and was appointed to prestigious committees by three California governors. She advised Gov. Jerry Brown on his judicial and commission appointments, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named her to the State Parks and Recreation Commission and the California Complete Count Committee for the 2010 Census and she served on current Gov. Gavin Newsom’s transition team. She also served as State President of the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC.)
Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams calls Dr. Huffman “a brilliant strategist,” who taught her a lot.
“She brought in programs that no other president prior to her had.”
She pointed to Dr. Huffman’s practice of paying for all 52 branch leaders from throughout California to attend an annual retreat to harness efforts to advocate for issues that impact the community.
“She paid for rooms. She paid for transportation and meals. She didn’t want any excuse for us not to learn,” Ms. Williams shared. “No other state president in the nation had done that.”
The local NAACP will have its own retreat in January, just as Dr. Huffman had.
“Part of that training that I’m going to be teaching them is straight from ‘the Huffman pages,’” Ms. Williams said.
She brought longtime Congressmember and civil rights icon John Lewis to Sacramento in 2016 when then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was vying for president against Republican candidate Donald Trump. Trump’s win, divisive leadership and the effort to keep him to just one term is part of the reason Dr. Huffman held on to the role.
“I should have resigned a year ago to tell you the truth,” she said.
“When I made the decision to stay this year, it was because we needed to ensure increased voter outreach, voter education and voter mobilization efforts in the African American community,” Dr. Huffman said.
“With the victory at the top of the ticket securing the election of President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as well as securing the re-election of our African American leaders in the California state legislature, I can say ‘mission accomplished’ and now take a well-deserved rest.”
With declining health, the leader’s sister Cecilia Huffman took on tasks that she could no longer perform personally. Stepping down, she says, will give her sister more time for her own pursuits.
Rick Callender, former president of the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP will take over as state president. The baton is being passed and Callender is “ready” to run with it, Dr. Huffman said.
“Luckily for me, the next generation was a member of my executive committee for about 15 years,” she said. “He got trained real well, as far as I could train him. He was always an activist, but I think for my situation, he’s ready to take over. He’s seeking to hit the ground running. I made sure that I transferred the title to him. He has to run for it two years from now, but right now he gets a head start and I think it’ll do him good to get in there and get it going.”
There is plenty of work ahead for the NAACP, Dr. Huffman says.
“They still have a long way to go to bring about racial equality, no doubt about that,” she shared.
She points to the failure to reverse the state’s ban on affirmative action earlier this month.
“That said two things,” she said. “Number one, it didn’t have the people behind it that should have been behind it and number two, there’s still racism in the state of California and we are not as liberal as they say we are, because you can look at the things that have happened around the state. We just have to keep pushing forward.”
Her successor being 20 years her junior, Dr. Huffman says, will be to his advantage.
“He’s got a long stretch that he can go, if he gets in and does well. He’ll take it to the next level. I took it as far as I could take it,” she added.
She calls her next steps “semi retirement” as there is still a year and a half left to her term on the National NAACP Board. She plans to remain active in her consulting firm as well.
Dr. Huffman founded A.C. Public Affairs, Inc., which specializes in initiative campaigns, strategic public policy issues and grassroots organizing, in 1988. The firm has made her the subject of quite a bit of controversy of late. In reportedly getting nearly $2 million from special interest groups in the last two years, she has been accused of having a conflict of interest and backing initiatives that are detrimental to the Black community.
“The people who took shots at me were some people in labor,” she said. “They don’t think that Black people can have an independent voice from them. When labor says something, they think we ought to say OK, but I don’t agree with them. If labor is right, I’m with them. If labor is not right, then I’m going to go on and do what I want to do, so that’s the problem they have with me.”
During a recent Zoom discussion of ballot measures, prominent area Black activists blatantly called her out, calling her an “immoral sellout” who was “on the wrong side of history.”
Dr. Huffman was unfazed.
“No I don’t care, because I was right and they were wrong,” the veteran leader said matter of factly.
“All six of those initiatives, they were wrong,” she continued. “They couldn’t do anything but take potshots at me because they didn’t have the resources or they were on the wrong side of the issue, so I didn’t pay them any attention.”
Ms. Williams says part of Dr. Huffman’s legacy is the things that she brought to the attention of African Americans that otherwise they wouldn’t have embraced such as same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.
“She was on the forefront of those when everybody wasn’t,” Ms. Williams said. “When same-sex marriage first came out, it didn’t pass, but she wasn’t afraid to come back and support it again and it passed the second time, the same with cannabis.”
There were also the things Dr. Huffman in getting the NAACP office organized and securing better locations for its headquarters, Ms. Williams said.
“It really does pain me to hear folks say that she used the NAACP to take herself to another level. No, she took NAACP state to another level. We needed her more than she needed us from when she first walked in the door.”
Dr. Huffman says after two decades, she has no regrets.
“I would do it all over again if I could,” she said.
By Genoa Barrow Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer