BALTIMORE, MD – The NAACP mourns the passing of civil rights icon and long-time NAACP leader Willis Edwards. He was 66 years old.
“Our dear friend and colleague Willis Edwards embodied the spirit of the NAACP,” stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “Willis attended his duties with great humility and greater passion. His accomplishments in the civil rights arena speak to a career that defies narrow definition. Willis promoted and protected the image of African Americans in the arts; he shaped and expanded the vision of the NAACP National Board of Directors; and he tore down barriers to honest conversation about HIV/AIDS in communities of color. He will be greatly missed.”
“Willis Edwards was a towering figure in the NAACP and his legacy will be remembered for generations to come,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “As a civil rights crusader, he continued in the tradition of those who came before him but also created new avenues to pursue justice in a changing world. His ingenuity made him a strong leader and a trusted advisor to so many freedom fighters across the country.”
In 1982, Edwards was elected President of the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch. More recently, he served as First Vice President of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch. Edwards is credited with by many helping to build the coalition of producers and funders that led to the first NAACP Image Awards live on national television in 1986.
He also served on the National Board of the NAACP for 12 years in many different capacities. He recently stepped down from the Board of Directors and joined the NAACP Board of Trustees.
Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS late in life, Edwards developed a reputation as a strident spokesman for HIV/AIDS education and advocacy. He was instrumental in guiding the NAACP’s work with HIV/AIDS. He also worked with the Minority AIDS Project. His final project was the development of the NAACP manual “The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative,” a handbook to help congregations stem the spread of the virus.
Edwards began his life in activism as a staffer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign and earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He has worked with Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, arranging for Mrs. Parks to sit with First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton at the 1999 State of the Union Address. He served as Vice President of Development and Planning for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Alabama.