NAACP Elmira-Corning Branch Presidents
Cornelia F. Matthews
Cornelia Matthews was responsible for the chartering of the Elmira NAACP in 1919. She later served as the branch’s fourth president. In addition to her work with the NAACP, she was active in local politics and religion. Matthews was appointed as the Republican Committeewoman for Elmira’s First District, Fourth Ward. She was the first African American woman in the country to hold such a political position. She also represented the Douglas A.M.E. Zion Church’s Christian Endeavor both regionally and nationally. She was the founder of the Nannie Burroughs Club and the C.F.M. Book Club. She died in 1936.
James Armstrong served two non-consecutive terms as the president of the Elmira NAACP Branch from 1920 to 1923 and 1927 to 1928. He was a political activist, community organizer, and member of the Brooks Jubilee Singers. Before his involvement with the NAACP, he spearheaded a campaign to ban the showing of the film Birth of a Nation at Elmira’s Lyceum Theatre in 1915. Armstrong died in 1930 at 56 years old.
William Chaney was branch president in 1924. He served in the army during WWI and re-enlisted during WWII.
Grace Mann was responsible for re-establishing the NAACP Elmira Branch in 1942. In July of that year, Mann wrote a letter to the national organization reporting an incident of workplace discrimination by local company Bendix-Eclipse. At the time, Mann was serving as president of the Negro Women’s Progressive Club of Elmira (NWPC). When the national organization urged her to establish a new NAACP chapter, Mann and the ladies of the NWPC formed the core of the new Elmira branch. She died in 1943.
Stella Blandford oversaw many different programs during her time as president, including the revival of the Neighborhood House Program in 1945. At the ten-year anniversary of the re-established branch, Blandford was the only living charter member of the original 1919 Elmira Branch. She passed away in June 1971 at the age of 73.
Elsie E. Watkins
Elsie E. Watkins was the first Corning resident to serve as president of the NAACP Elmira Branch. Under her leadership, the branch hosted lectures on African American history and worked to expand membership.
Ellsworth E. English
A young man in his mid-twenties during his time as president, Ellsworth English sponsored events at the Neighborhood House designed to engage the youth and was the leader of the local Boys Club. In 1947, he filed a lawsuit against a restaurant which refused service to four black customers. He also petitioned the City of Elmira to hire African Americans to the police and fire departments. He died in 1997 at age 77.
Lewis H. Stark
(1948-1950, 1952, 1963-1966)
Lewis Stark served in many local NAACP executive positions in addition to his three non-consecutive terms as president. Under his leadership, the Elmira NAACP focused on education, providing scholarships, and fighting housing discrimination. Outside his role in the NAACP, Stark headed a committee advocating for naming the new EFA school after the late Ernie Davis. Stark died in November 1980 at the age of 69.
A WWII veteran, George Bragg is best remembered for his work as chairman of the Elmira Housing Authority. Bragg was the driving force behind the construction of the Newtown Towers in 1969. After his death, the towers were renamed in his honor. Bragg passed away in September 1979 at the age of 74.
Clayton W. Blandford
Under Clayton Blandford’s leadership, the NAACP offered fire safety programs as part of a broader initiative in community safety. After leaving office, he was appointed as Vice President of the New York NAACP in 1955. Blandford died on November 19, 1994 at the age of 94.
Rev. Latta Thomas
Under Rev. Latta Thomas’s leadership, the local NAACP participated in the national Civil Rights movement through lectures, protest marches, and fundraising. The fight against housing discrimination was a major focus of Thomas’s presidency. In 1963, Thomas officiated at the funeral for Ernie Davis, which was attended by thousands. Thomas was honored in 1971 for his work on Civil Rights in Elmira. In 1973, he earned a doctor of ministry degree from Andover Newton Theological School. He died in 1980 at the age of 69.
Joseph Brown was elected president in a run-off election after the first one ended in a tie between him and Donald Blandford. Housing was a key issue during his presidency and, in 1968, he led a demonstration at City Hall in support of larger low-income housing units. Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, he organized a march and memorial ceremony here in Elmira. Brown and 70 others from Elmira participated in the Poor People’s Campaign in June 1968. He died on December 13, 1980.
R. Wayne Dunham
R. Wayne Dunham was a fierce advocate for fair housing during his tenure as president. He developed a reputation as a firebrand after publically calling out members of the Elmira City Council and Human Relations Commission. In addition to his role with the NAACP, he was also editor of The Key, the local African American newspaper, and an officer of the Political Action Committee of Elmira (PACE).
Donald C. Blandford
Donald C. Blandford was the son of former Elmira NAACP president Clayton W. Blandford. During his first presidency, he launched a program for Elmira families to host Sunday dinners for migrant farm workers. It was also during this time that the Elmira NAACP became the Elmira-Corning NAACP in order to better assist those effected by the 1972 flood. He took over as acting president in 1974 following Rev. Willie Powell’s resignation. A city park on Harriet Street was re-named in his honor following his death in 2006.
Rev. Willie L. Powell
Rev. Willie L. Powell was elected president shortly after becoming pastor of Elmira’s Douglas Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. He resigned from both positions after being indicted for embezzling funds from a volunteer organization in which he was involved.
Roland Coleman became involved in the NAACP in the 1950s and served in several leadership positions before being elected president. Under his leadership, the Elmira-Corning branch endorsed the state’s passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. As a young man he participated in a pilot program to desegregate the U.S. Navy.
Rev. Cephus M. McGee Jr.
Rev. Cephus M. McGee Jr. was the pastor of the All Saints Home Church of God in Christ and a chaplain at the Elmira Correctional Facility. During his presidency, the branch launched a major recruitment campaign. Under his leadership, the NAACP formally lodged complaints about the unfair treatment of black students in the Elmira City School District.
Frank Givens Jr.
Under Frank Givens Jr.’s leadership, the Elmira-Corning NAACP established an office to act as a clearinghouse and resource center for problems within the community. He sponsored computer training courses at the Neighborhood House to help minority students learn computer skills. Outside of his work with the NAACP, Givens was the first African American president of the engineering chapter of the Industrial Engineering Society.
Rev. Gregory Jackson
Rev. Gregory Jackson was the pastor at Monumental Baptist Church and vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Under his leadership, the branch focused on education and jobs. It raised $10,000 for the United Negro College Fund and established a college scholarship program with Corning Glass Works. He resigned his presidency in April 1984 to become the pastor at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack, N.J.
Bessie Berry took over the presidency following Rev. Gregory Jackson’s resignation. In 1986, Berry supported “Black Dollar Days” which encouraged people of color to use Susan B. Anthony dollar coins and $2 bills exclusively when making purchases in order to highlight the black community’s economic impact. In 1966, Berry became the first African American elected to the Elmira School Board where she pushed the district to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. day as a holiday. She died in 2008 at the age of 76.
Under Roosevelt Branch’s leadership, the Elmira-Corning NAACP participated in a radiothon recruitment drive hosted by local stations WCLI-AM and KZ-106 FM. He also organized a voter registration drive in the run-up to the 1988 election.
Rev. Arthur O. Keith
Rev. Arthur O. Keith was the director of volunteer services at the Elmira Correctional Facility and a former Elmira police officer. As NAACP president, he advocated for more minorities in administrative positions at the local prison. In 1989, he arranged for members of the local chapter to participate in a silent march on Washington, D.C. to protest recent Supreme Court decisions which had rolled back certain civil rights gains.
Georgia Verdier, a prominent community activist, has been president of the NAACP Elmira-Corning Branch for over twenty-six years. Advocating for participation in global, national, and local issues, she has traveled abroad on fact-finding missions. Professionally, Verdier was a Health Care Manager for the New York State Department of Mental Health. She holds two Master’s degrees: one in Education, with a concentration in psychology; and one in Public Service Administration. She currently lives in Corning, New York.