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NAACP poised to name successor

Witherspoon leaves ‘big shoes to fill’

A few weeks ago, Alice Lawrence, who worked for years with the late Blair County NAACP President Don Witherspoon, didn’t sound optimistic about the prospects of replacing her friend, who died Dec. 26 of COVID-19.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Lawrence said. “I don’t think anybody can fill them.”

The state president of the NAACP, however, seems optimistic that presidential succession at the local branch will work out, after meeting recently with branch leaders and identifying a “young man” who will be voted on by state leadership Wednesday to become interim Blair president.

“The Blair County NAACP is going to be in very good and capable hands,” Kenneth Huston said. “It will be functioning and active.”

He declined to name the candidate, a current Blair County resident.

After the state election, the Blair County branch will need to ratify the interim president by vote, Huston said.

“That needs to be scheduled,” he said. It also needs to be supervised by the state conference, he said.

That could happen within 30 days of the interim appointment, he said.

Witherspoon grew up in a small black community in Claysburg, where racial discrimination was not only rare, but where white companions would defend their black friends when they encountered racism elsewhere, as at high school sporting events, said Don’s brother, Jerry, commenting for a story after Don’s death at age 77.

As president of the local NAACP, Witherspoon was known for calm interventions that took account of both sides, said his vice president, Bill Sweet, who is white, in December.

Witherspoon, Lawrence and Sweet used to visit the local prisons, Lawrence said.

Along with Lawrence, Witherspoon became a “watchdog” for the rights of Black Prison inmates, said Jacqueline Smith-Bennett, a longtime friend, in December.

He ended up getting to know lots of people, including influential ones, which enabled him to help those in need, Jerry said.

He “spoke for his community,” former State Sen. Bob Jubelirer said in December.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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