Benjamin Chavis

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Benjamin Chavis (once known as Benjamin Chavis Muhammad) is an African American civil rights leader. He was born Benjamin Franklin Chavis, Jr. on January 22, 1948 in Oxford, North Carolina. In his youth, Dr. Chavis was an assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who inspired him to work in the civil rights movement.

At the age of 24, Dr. Chavis rose to international prominence after being convicted of arson as the leader of the Wilmington Ten. Sentenced to 34 years in prison, he was freed in 1980 when a federal appeals court overturned the group's convictions. He became a Vice President of the National Council of Churches.

Dr. Chavis became the Executive Director of the NAACP, and he served as the National Director of the Million Man March, as well as the Founder and CEO of the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS). Since 2001 he has been CEO and Co-Chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network,[1][2] in New York City which he cofounded with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Dr. Chavis joined with Ezell Brown in 2009 to establish Education Online Services Corporation which is headquartered in Coral Springs, Florida. In 2011, Dr. Chavis collaborated with multi-platinum music producer and author Sahpreem A. King on "Surviving the Game: How to Succeed in the Music Business" where Dr. Chavis is credited as author of the foreword and technical advisor.

Early life[edit]

Chavis was born and grew up in Oxford, North Carolina. As a twelve-year-old, Chavis effectively desegregated his hometown's white public library, becoming the first African American to be given a library card there.[3][4] He graduated from Mary Potter High School in 1965, and entered St. Augustine College in Raleigh as a freshman.[3] He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (1969).

After working in the civil rights movement and serving time in prison as a member of the Wilmington Ten, he completed a Master of Divinity (magna cum laude) from Duke University (1980) and a Doctor of Ministry from Howard University (1981). He was admitted into the PhD program in Systematic Theology as a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and completed all of the academic course requirements.[citation needed]


Civil rights and political activities[edit]

In 1965, while a college freshman, Chavis became a statewide youth coordinator in North Carolina for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He also joined CORE, SNCC and AFSCME.[5]

Chavis also worked for the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. He returned to Oxford and taught at the Mary Potter High School, still all black although school desegregation had been ordered. In 1970 following the murder of 23-year-old Henry Marrow and the acquittal by an all-white jury of the two men who killed him, Chavis organized a protest march from Oxford to the capital city of Raleigh, North Carolina. Following that, he organized a black boycott of white businesses in town, which lasted for 18 months until the town agreed to integrate its public facilities, including schools.[6]

United Church of Christ[edit]

Chavis was appointed a field officer in the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice in 1968. (The commission had been established in 1963 to coordinate justice strategies, community organization, and the like.[4])

In 1969, he was appointed Southern Regional Program Director of the 1.7 million member United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (UCC-CRJ). In 1985, he was named the Executive Director and CEO of the UCC-CRJ.[7]

He was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 1980.[8]

Wilmington Ten[edit]

In 1971 the Commission for Racial Justice assigned Chavis to Wilmington, North Carolina to help desegregate the public school system. Since the city abruptly closed the black high school, laid off its principal and most of its teachers, and distributed the students to other schools, there had been conflicts with white students. The administration did not hear their grievances, and the students organized a boycott in protest.

Chavis and nine others were arrested in February 1972 for a firebombing, charged with conspiracy and arson, and convicted in 1972. The oldest man at age 24, Chavis drew the longest sentence, 34 years. The ten were incarcerated while supporters pursued appeals. The case of the Wilmington Ten received international condemnation as a political prosecution. In December 1980, the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial and overturned the original conviction because of "prosecutorial misconduct."[9][7]

In 1978 Amnesty International described Benjamin Chavis and eight others of the Wilmington Ten still in prison as “American political prisoners” under the definition of the Universal Rights of Man and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They were prisoners of conscience. From this experience Benjamin Chavis wrote two books: An American Political Prisoner Appeals for Human Rights (while still in prison) and Psalms from Prison. In 1978, Chavis was named as one of the first winners of the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.

On December 31, 2012, Chavis and the surviving members of the Wilmington Ten were granted Pardons of Innocence by North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue.[10] TheNew York Times advocated for the pardons of innocence for the Wilmington 10 as the case had become an international cause celebre as a case of virulent racist political prosecution.[11]

Environmental racism[edit]

Because of Dr. Chavis' scientific background, in 1981, he was the first person to coin the term environmental racism[citation needed]: “Racial discrimination in the deliberated targeting of ethnic and minority communities for exposure to toxic and hazardous waste sites and facilities, coupled with the systematic exclusion of minorities in environmental policy making, enforcement, and remediation.”[citation needed] To prove the validity of his definition, Chavis in 1986 conducted and published the landmark national study: Toxic Waste and Race in the United States of America, that statistically revealed the direct correlation between race and the location of toxic waste throughout the United States.[citation needed] Chavis is considered by many environmental grassroots activists to be the “father of the post-modern environmental justice movement” that has steadily grown throughout the nation and world since the early 1980s.[citation needed]

National Council of Churches[edit]

In 1988, Dr. Chavis was elected Vice President of the National Council of Churches. He also served as chairman of its Prophetic Justice unit as a minister of the United Church of Christ.[5]


In 1993, Dr. Chavis became the youngest Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Dr. Chavis is a life member of the NAACP, and first joined at the age of 12 as a youth leader of the Granville County, North Carolina Branch.

Chavis traveled to a housing project to “get to the heart of the issue,” stating that in economically deprived areas, youth often go from childhood to adulthood with no adolescence because of the economic demands.[citation needed] On August 28, 1993, NAACP Chairman William Gibson, Executive Director Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., Coretta Scott King, William Fauntroy, and AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland joined together to organize the 30th Anniversary March on Washington for Economic Democracy. In 1993, President Clinton named Dr. Chavis to the twenty-five-member President’s Council on Sustainable Development to help develop U.S. policies that would encourage economic growth, job creation, and environmental protection.

The NAACP in 1993 received a $2 million commitment from the estate of the late Reginald F. Lewis to establish the NAACP Reginald F. Lewis Memorial Endowment.

Dr. Chavis spoke on the PBS series Earthkeeping. He said that “environmental racism” was a life-and-death issue and noted the work of the NAACP to end it. He said that often people of color were excluded from decisions on public policy.[citation needed] The NAACP organized Branches to speak out on the issue and advocated for reform of the Superfund legislation.

In 1994, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. set the NAACP’s focus on economic empowerment to ensure a strong economic infrastructure for the African-American and other communities of color. The NAACP created a Telecommunications Task Force of Board members and industry leaders to ensure that African Americans took part in the ownership, management, and total employment package of President Clinton’s proposed “National Information Superhighway.”

The NAACP conducted a voter education teleconference in seventeen cities across the U.S. to prepare South African citizens residing in the U.S. and NAACP volunteers for participation in the special South African elections on April 26.

Through the NAACP Community Development Resource Centers (CDRC), the Association established the Youth Entrepreneurial Institute to sharpen business acumen and launch enterprises for students ages fourteen to eighteen. In May 1994, Chavis led the NAACP and other organizations in sponsoring a youth summit to seek solutions to the drugs and violence in their communities. [12]

In 1994, Chavis was fired after signing an out-of-court settlement committing the NAACP to pay a former female employee up to $332,400 to stop a potential employment discrimination lawsuit against the NAACP. Chavis in his position as CEO signed the settlement. Later that year, Chavis was excused from his post as CEO of the NAACP.

National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS)[edit]

In 1994, Dr. Chavis convened summit conferences of civil rights leaders in Baltimore in August and in Chicago in December. They agreed to found the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS) in June 1995. A constitution and by-laws were adopted that month. Chavis served as Executive Director and CEO of NAALS from 1995 to 1997, during which he directed the organization, planning and implementation of the Million Man March in Washington, DC.

Million Man March[edit]

In 1995, Dr. Chavis was the National Director of the Million Man March Organizing Committee that conceived, designed, arranged and promoted the Million Man March.[7] He drew upon his years of experience as an advocate for African-American equality to help this political march reach its goals of increased political activity and awareness of issues by African Americans.[citation needed]

Newspaper and radio[edit]

Chavis wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column Civil Rights Journal from 1985 to 1993. At the same time, he produced and hosted a radio program of the same name.[5] "Leadership summit sets black agenda following Million Man March - National African American Leadership Summit". Jet (magazine). 1995-12-11. Retrieved 2008-06-27. "The organizers of the Million Man March are working to turn the spirit of the March into something tangible. Something real."  </ref>[13]

Nation of Islam[edit]

Chavis joined the Nation of Islam in 1997 and adopted the surname Muhammad which he later dropped. He was appointed East Coast Regional Minister of the Nation of Islam and Minister of the historic Mosque Number Seven in Harlem, New York. While in the Nation of Islam, Chavis worked to establish better relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims.


The journey into the Hip-Hop culture actually had its roots for Chavis dating back to 1969 when he was the proprietor and regular “DJ” and “MC” for The Soul Kitchen Disco in his hometown of Oxford, North Carolina. In the 1970s, Chavis saw the connection between the urban underground music and the post-civil rights era.[citation needed] During the 1980s, Chavis witnessed the growing popularity of hip-hop with disfranchised youth entrapped into urban poverty.[citation needed]

While serving as a mentor to Sister Souljah, Kevin Powell, Little Rob, Ras Baraka and other hip-hop activists, Chavis met Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen in 1986 at Def Jam Records. As head of the NAACP in 1993, he worked with Run DMC to mobilize youth voters. Hip-hop's premier video director, Hype Williams, cast Chavis in the pivotal role as the “Rev. Saviour” in the 1998 hip-hop classic movie Belly, which starred superstar hip-hop artists Nas, Method Man and DMX.[citation needed]

Chavis performed the Intro and Outro to Jim Jones and the Diplomats 2004 hip-hop album, “On My Way to Church.” In 2005, he was the spoken word artist feature in Cassidy's latest platinum selling album ”I'm A Hustler.” When Chavis helped organize both the Million Man March (1995) and Million Family March (2000), Russell Simmons worked with him to mobilize hip-hop leaders to support the marches. Ultimately, the two men realized they had a similar vision for this generation of hip-hop youth, and to that end, they created the first national "Hip-Hop Summit" in New York City, from which grew the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).[citation needed][14]

One-and-a-half years later, the HSAN is the largest and broadest national coalition of hip-hop artists, recording industry executives, youth activists and civil rights leaders.[citation needed] With the support of the major hip-hop labels, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and others, the HSAN has sponsored successful "Hip-Hop Summits" in New York, New York, Kansas City, Missouri, Oakland, California, Los Angeles, California, Washington, DC, Miami, Florida, Seattle, Washington, and Dallas, Texas.[citation needed] A 2004 event in Cleveland, Ohio was not so successful.[15]

Meetings with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), vocal stands before the U.S. Congress on the unconstitutionality of censoring rap lyrics, the development of literacy programs, Youth Councils, voter registration drives in conjunction with Rap The Vote, the voice for the poor, and the fight for children's public education, fill Chavis' days (and nights).[citation needed]

In 2002 Dr. Chavis and the HSAN joined the United Federation of Teachers and the New York Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) to organize the largest public demonstration since New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office. [16] The Washington Post reported, “Hip-hop's brightest stars, from P. Diddy to Jay-Z to Alicia Keys, lent a little star power today to a demonstration by roughly 100,000 students, teachers and rap fans who crammed eight blocks outside City Hall to protest drastic school budget cuts proposed by the new mayor.”[citation needed]

Chavis joined “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon, actor Bruce Willis and Russell Simmons to demand adequate funding for education across the state of New York.[citation needed]

Dr. Chavis was a spokesperson for TI's Respect My Vote campaign, and introduced TI's performance at the 2008 FAMU Homecoming Concert in Tallahassee Florida that was hosted by FAMU and Blazin 102.3.

In 2007 Chavis headed H3 Enterprises and the HipHopSodaShop. In 2009, H3 Enterprises sued Chavis for mismanagement, a settlement was found in this case after the countersuit of Chavis.[17]

Other memberships[edit]


Dr. Chavis is married to Martha Rivera Chavis and the father of eight children, three of whom are by his first wife the late Jackie Bullock Chavis. He is a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.[19][20] Chavis has told an interviewer he reads books on chemistry, for pleasure.[8]


Popular culture[edit]

Dr. Chavis appeared as the "Minister" in Hype Williams' 1998 movie "Belly".

Dr. Chavis appeared in skits on Jim Jones (rapper)' debut album "On My Way to Church", as well as the track "Concrete Jungle" on Jones' third studio album, "Hustler's P.O.M.E."

Dr. Chavis has been mistakenly listed as being the voice during the chorus on "Ringing Bells", a track from Masta Killa's album Made In Brooklyn. It is actually Minister Louis Farrakhan's voice used on the track.

Dr. Chavis also appeared on a track called "The Message" on Cassidy's I'm A Hustla.

Dr. Chavis appeared in Spike Lee's film about the Million Man March, Get on the Bus.

Dr. Chavis is featured as the protagonist in the critically acclaimed autobiographical work by Tim Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name and the critically acclaimed film where the part of the young Benjamin Chavis is played by Nate Parker.

The Story of The Wilmington 10



  1. ^ " - Board of Directors". Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  2. ^ " - Leadership and Support". Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  3. ^ a b "Benjamin Chavis, Jr. Biography". The HistoryMakers. 2004-12-20. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  4. ^ a b "Benjamin Chavis" (fee). Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 6. Gale Research. 2004-04-27. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d e Jackson, Gerald G (2005). We're not going to take it anymore. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-931761-84-3. OCLC 173083091. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  6. ^ Timothy Tyson, Blood Done Called My Name (2004)
  7. ^ a b c "Benjamin Franklin Chavis Muhammad". The Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth ed.). Columbia University Press. 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  8. ^ a b Kotlowitz, Alex (1994-06-12). "A Bridge Too Far?; Benjamin Chavis". New York Times magazine. p. 3. Retrieved 2008-06-20. 
  9. ^ "Chavis to head NAACP". Christian Century. 1993-04-28. Retrieved 2008-06-26. [dead link]
  10. ^ Blythe, Anne (January 1, 2013). "RALEIGH: Perdue pardons Wilmington 10". News Observer. Retrieved 2014-02-14. 
  11. ^ "Pardons for the Wilmington 10". New York Time SundayReview. December 22, 2012. p. SR10. 
  12. ^ Bond, Julian (2009). NAACP: Celebrating a Century 100 Years in Pictures. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. p. 456. ISBN 978-1-4236-0527-0. 
  13. ^ Feiden, Douglas (1995-06-16). "Whites and Jews Unwelcome As Chavis' Summit Convenes" (fee). Forward. Retrieved 2008-06-27. "No whites -- or Jews -- need apply. That was the message in the founding charter of the National African American Leadership Summit, the new organization of black nationalists unveiled by the Rev. Benjamin Chavis at a conference here dominated by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan." 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Segal, David (2004-10-30). "Vote, Dude: Hip-Hop Singers and Celebrities Try to Tap A Potentially Powerful Force -- Black Youth". Washington Post. p. C01. Retrieved 2008-06-27. " the moment there isn't a young voter in sight" 
  16. ^ "United Federation of Teachers, the Alliance for Quality Education and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network Form an Unprecedented Coalition to Protest Bloomberg's Education Budget Cuts". Business Wire (Gale Group). 2002-05-29. Retrieved 2008-06-27. "It is with a sense of urgency that the HSAN is encouraging a massive hip-hop protest of Mayor Bloomberg's proposal to cut $1 billion from public education in New York City. These proposed cuts will hurt students, teachers and our entire community. Hip-hop is about speaking truth to power, and we intend to speak the truth directly to Mayor Bloomberg on June 4, 2002 at City Hall." 
  17. ^ Leone, Jarad. "Tampa's Hip Hop Soda Shop 'was not executed well in the end'". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  18. ^ Jackson, Gerald G (2005). We're not going to take it anymore. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-931761-84-3. OCLC 173083091. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  19. ^ "Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity - Epsilon Chapter @ Temple University". Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity - Epsilon Chapter @ Temple University. Archived from the original on 2008-05-17. Retrieved 2008-06-28. "Much Love to Bro. Chavis Mohammad (Benjamin Chavis) who was a major contributor in organizing the March." 
  20. ^ "Famous Men of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.". Mississippi University For Women. Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2008-06-26. "Bro. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad Organizer, Million Man March" 


External links[edit]