On 7 February 2017, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina shared a photograph via Twitter purportedly showing that his colleague, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabmaa — the nominee for the position of Attorney General in the new Trump administration — had been bestowed with a “Governmental Award of Excellence” by the NAACP in 2009:
NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks issued the following statement regarding the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as potential Attorney General by President-elect Donald J. Trump:
“The nomination of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to be Attorney General, to serve as chief law enforcement officer of the United States, is deeply troubling. Based on the disdain for our nation’s civil rights laws that Senator Sessions has consistently demonstrated throughout his career, his fitness to be the chief protector and enforcer of them falls into dire question.
“Senator Sessions was denied appointment as a federal judge in 1986 for a slew of racist comments, including calling the work of the NAACP and ACLU ‘Un-American.’ He has also repeatedly spoken out against the federal Voting Rights Act. We just lived through the first presidential election in over 50 years without the Act’s full protections and witnessed the suppression of millions of votes. To appoint an Attorney General who dismisses the need for these critical protections is even more despicable and unacceptable.
Politico reported that the pictured award had been found while Sessions’ office in Mobile, Alabama, was undergoing a cleaning-out. A second photograph confirmed the physical existence of an award plaque:
However, the above-displayed award has some curious aspects to it. For instance, we found no record of anyone else’s having received an “NAACP Governmental Award of Excellence,” nor were we able to locate any reports (from 2009 or otherwise) regarding the NAACP’s honoring Sessions with such an award.
When we reached out to the NAACP for more information about the award, a staffer confirmed to us that the national NAACP office does not give out an award by that name as part of their regular honors.
On 9 February 2017, the NAACP released a statement regarding Sessions’ alleged award, saying that they “have strong reasons to doubt that any such award was given to Senator Sessions”:
“The NAACP is composed of more than 2,000 local and state units around the country. Upon learning of the allegation that one of those units bestowed an award on Senator Jefferson Sessions in 2009, the National Office of the NAACP immediately undertook an investigation. While we already have strong reasons to doubt that any such award was given to Senator Sessions, we will continue our investigation until we are confident that we know all of the facts. What remains true and unchanged is the NAACP’s strong opposition to the nomination of Senator Sessions to become the next Attorney General of the United States. The NAACP’s position against Senator Sessions is based on his decades of conduct as a prosecutor and, later, U.S. Senator from the State of Alabama. In matters of civil and human rights, civil liberties, fair policing, voting rights, sentencing fairness, women’s rights, hate crimes and more, Senator Sessions has repeatedly demonstrated that he is clearly unsuited to perform the duties of an Attorney General in these crucial times.”
Senator Sessions may have received this award from the Alabama state chapter of the NAACP. The date displayed on the plaque indicates that the award was given to Sessions during the “NAACP Civic and Human Rights Convention” in April 2009, and according to AL.com, the Alabama NAACP did hold a convention (called the “NAACP Civil and Human Rights Convention”) during that timeframe.
We’ve reached out to the Alabama NAACP chapter for more information.