The longtime president of Casper’s NAACP branch, Jimmy Simmons, resigned last Tuesday amid what he said was a leadership struggle within the organization.
Simmons gained national attention in 2013 for organizing a meeting with a Ku Klux Klan representative over the objection of senior NAACP officials.
A private — and likely first — meeting between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Ku Klux Klan in a small …
“I started to get unpopular,” Simmons said in an interview. He became president in 2001.
Simmons said that factions had developed within the local branch and that some members wished to see him step down or for the branch to be disbanded.
“They may think I’m too big,” he speculated. “They’re thinking it’s the NAACP for Jim Simmons.”
They didn’t think he would come.
After a recent trip to Senegal, Simmons said he returned to find an election scheduled on the organization’s calendar. Because he had typically been appointed by acclamation to two-year terms as president, Simmons was confused by the notice and got unclear answers from other NAACP members, he said.
He took that as his cue to resign.
Simmons generated controversy four years ago with his invitation for a Montana-based KKK recruiter to meet with local NAACP officials in Casper, following a spate of hate crimes against interracial couples in northeast Wyoming. The meeting ended with kleagle John Abarr joining the NAACP and making a small donation.
Simmons said he has no regrets over hosting the meeting and is still in touch with Abarr.
“I did the right thing,” he said.
Simmons said that the meeting sparked a backlash from officials at the NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference. But conference president Rosemary Lytle said that’s not true and that she did not try to push Simmons out.
“I was surprised by his resignation,” she said. “Mr. Simmons has served for a long time — going back to before my tenure as state president — and has worked with the NAACP with vigor.”
Lytle specifically praised his work surrounding the attacks around Gillette, which sparked a advisory from the organization for couples traveling in the region.
Casper NAACP branch treasurer Leanne Woodfield also complimented Simmons’ leadership of the group.
“He’s defended the civil rights of people of all colors and ethnicities,” she said.
Woodfield said that elections are an annual event and the calendar notice was not meant as a jab at Simmons.
Simmons said that he has accepted a job overseeing the drilling of water wells in Senegal, but that he will remain based in Casper.
“I’ll fly back and forth,” he said. “This is my home.”
Simmons helped build the NAACP branch in Casper in 2001 after a previous president stepped down. He said several of his proudest accomplishments involved advocating for minorities during employment disputes and working to combat racism across central Wyoming.
He said the Casper NAACP currently has just under the 50 members generally required to maintain a branch charter.