POLITICIAN, NAACP LEADER (1948-)
The eldest of four children, Kweisi Mfume
(born Frizzell Gray) was raised in a poor community just outside Baltimore, Maryland by his
mother and stepfather, Mary and Clifton Gray. After years of physical abuse, Mary
Gray left her husband in 1960 and moved the family to a neighborhood closer to the
city. Four years later she was diagnosed with cancer and within a short time learned
the disease was terminal. Mfume and his sisters were devastated by the news and
suffered a traumatic blow when she died, literally, in the arms of her only son. In
his autobiography, No Free Ride, Mfume recalls just how difficult it was losing his
After his mother's death Mfume quit high
school and began working to support his three sisters. Disillusioned, he also began
hanging out on the streets, becoming a gang leader and fathering several illegitimate
children. Disappointed with his reckless lifestyle Mfume made a decision to change
his life when he was 22 years old. He earned a high school equivalency diploma and
graduated magna cum laude from Morgan State University
in 1976. In the early 1970s Mfume also began working as a disc jockey on local radio
stations where he developed an interest in politics.
He changed his name from Frizzell Gray to
Kweisi Mfume (which means "conquering sons of Kings" in the African language
spoken by the Ibgo), and in 1978 won a seat on the Baltimore City Council. Mfume
honed his political skills and in 1986 won the seat in the Seventh Congressional District
vacated by legendary Black politician Parren J. Mitchell. Mfume served five terms in
Congress, eventually becoming leader of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
On February 20, 1996, he left Congress to become president and chief executive officer of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the nation's
oldest and largest civil rights organizations. As president of the NAACP, Mfume has
eliminated the organization's six-figure debt and has worked to revitalize its image among
young African Americans.
Revised: July 18, 2013.