Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 7th congressional district
January 3, 1987 – February 15, 1996
Preceded by Parren J. Mitchell
Succeeded by Elijah Cummings
President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Preceded by Earl Shinhoster
Succeeded by Dennis Courtland Hayes
Born Frizzell Gerald Gray
October 24, 1948 (age 67)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater The Community College of Baltimore County
Morgan State University
Kweisi Mfume (born Frizzell Gerald Gray; October 24, 1948) is the former President/CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as a five-term Democratic Congressman from Maryland's 7th congressional district, serving in the 100th through 104th Congress. On September 12, 2006, he lost a primary campaign for the United States Senate seat that was being vacated by Maryland U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes.
1 Early life
3 2006 United States Senate race
4 After the Senate race
Mfume was born Frizzell Gerald Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, October 24, 1948, the eldest of four. His father, a truck driver, abandoned his family in Gray's youth. Upon the death of his mother, Mfume dropped out of high school at sixteen to begin working as many as three jobs at a time to support his three sisters. He also began hanging around street corners, sometimes with the wrong friends. In his biography, he reports that he "was locked up a couple of times on suspicion of theft because [he] happened to be black and happened to be young." Speculation as to the degree of his entanglement with the law has varied, especially as he later came into prominence. He became father to five children with several different women during his difficult teenage years, whom he actively supports (and who actively support him in his politics) to this day. He has since adopted one child as well.
At age 23, it came upon Gray to change his life for the better. He returned to his studies and obtained his GED, going on to begin studies at The Community College of Baltimore County, where he served as the head of its Black Student Union and the editor of the school newspaper. He went on to attend Morgan State University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1976. He would go on to earn a Master of Liberal Arts degree in 1984 at Johns Hopkins University. In the early 1970s, in recognition of his heritage and his success over his beginnings, he legally changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, a name from Ghana that translates to "Conquering Son of Kings".
Mfume in 1987 U.S. Congressional portrait
In 1978, Kweisi Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council, serving there until 1986. His political stance was against that of then-mayor William Donald Schaefer, who Mfume believed had ignored the many poor neighborhoods of the city. It was a contentious matter, but despite his strong opinions he learned the art of political compromise. He was perceived by many to have had some success during his stay in office, a fact perhaps reflected by his subsequent election to the United States House of Representatives in 1986 despite a torrent of criticism, directed in no small part against his early past.
Serving in Maryland's 7th Congressional district for five terms, Kweisi made himself known as a Democrat with an apparent balance between strong progressive ideologies and a capacity for practical compromise, representing a district that included both West Baltimore and suburban and rural communities, though his primary goal was an increase in federal aid to American inner cities. In his fourth term he was made chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In February 1996, Mfume left the House to accept the presidency of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), stating that he could do more to improve American civil rights there than in the Congress. He reformed the association's finances to pay off its considerable debt while pursuing the cause of civil rights advancement for African Americans. Though many in Baltimore wanted Mfume to run for mayor in the 1999 election, Mfume stayed with the NAACP. Mfume served this position for nine years before stepping down in 2004 to pursue other interests.
Mfume is a member of the Prince Hall Freemasons and Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
2006 United States Senate race
Main article: Maryland U.S. Senate election, 2006
On March 14, 2005, Mfume announced that he would seek the U.S. Senate seat of senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), following the announcement by Sarbanes that he would not run for re-election in 2006. Multiple candidates ran for the Democratic nomination. The Democratic primary for this seat was held on September 12, 2006, and Mfume lost the race to U.S. Congressman Ben Cardin.
After the Senate race
Mfume delivering a speech at NOAA during Black History Month, 2005
In the wake of his primary defeat, Mfume was believed to be considering running for mayor of Baltimore in 2007, though he had not publicly expressed interest in such a run. On November 13, 2006, Mfume told a Baltimore-area radio station that "I don't have any plans to run for mayor. She [incoming mayor Sheila Dixon]'s worked for and deserves an opportunity to lead. ... I want her to succeed. I want the city to be united. I think at this point we owe her at least the opportunity to try to lead it." In late 2010, he was again rumored to be considering a run in the Baltimore mayoral election, 2011.
In May 2013, Mfume was named Chairman of his alma mater, Morgan State University. He assumed the position of July 1, 2020 succeeding the universities' interim Chair Martin Resnick.