The NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States, has announced it will hold its annual national convention in Baltimore in 2016.
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore branch of the 103-year-old organization, said Wednesday that the national board met during its yearly convention in Las Vegas this week to select the host city for the year.
A committee of the 64-person board voted for Baltimore — home to the national headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People since 1986 — from a short list of candidates that included Cincinnati, St. Louis and Austin, Texas.
"Needless to say, this is a big deal for Baltimore," Hill-Aston said. "Our city is … rich in civil rights history. The entire city will roll out the red carpet to make the delegates feel at home."
Reached in Las Vegas, where she had just listened to Vice President Joe Biden address thousands of delegates, Hill-Aston said the announcement is a highlight of her 31/2-year tenure.
"I'm so excited right now I can't think straight," she said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined Hill-Aston in celebrating the decision.
"We are honored that the NAACP has named [our city] the host," she said in a statement. "Baltimore's rich African-American heritage and culture is celebrated and laced throughout the fabric of our city, and the [association's] own proud legacy is thriving in Baltimore City today."
The mayor added that the Baltimore branch, which dates to 1912, was one of the first to be founded. The NAACP was born in New York City one year earlier.
The local chapter, whose roughly 2,000 members make it Maryland's largest, is located on West 26th Street. The association's national headquarters is on Mount Hope Drive.
Hill-Aston said leaders from each of the competing cities had a chance to sell their community to national leaders at the convention.
Rawlings-Blake and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown appeared in videos pitching the idea, she said, adding that Baltimore's presentation centered on its role in civil rights history, including the fact that former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall grew up here.
Visit Baltimore CEO Tom Noonan helped prepare the presentation, which also cited the city's many convention-friendly attributes, Hill-Aston said, including its abundance of hotel rooms and cultural attractions.
No dates for the 2016 convention have been set, though the event traditionally takes place in July. There is hope, Hill-Aston said, that it can be scheduled to overlap the Fourth of July weekend.
Whenever it takes place, the convention will give an economic boost to the city, she added, and the mayor agreed.
"Events like this further showcase that Baltimore is truly a world-class destination and prove we are quickly becoming one of the nation's cornerstones for tourism," Rawlings-Blake said in her statement.
Association leaders made the announcement during a convention week at which African-American voting rights were a hot topic.
New NAACP president Cornell Brooks was one of many speakers who addressed the subject.
Brooks, 53, was named the organization's 18th president in May.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun