Dorothy N. Fowler/News-Sun
Joseph Cotton and his wife, Melva, were on their way to Louisiana when they stopped to visit her family in Hobbs in 1981.
“Two days later, I went to work for Kirkmeyer Electric,” Cotton said. “We had planned to go back to where my family lived, in Louisiana, but when we got to Hobbs, we just stopped and now it’s home. I love my in-laws and lots of other wonderful people here.”
At the time, Cotton didn’t know much about the National Association of Colored People. Now he’s a newly elected member of the national board as well as the president of the Hobbs NAACP chapter.
“I worked for Kirkmeyer for 10 years, and then I decided to change jobs and went to work for United Parcel Service as a driver. I loved that job. I loved meeting new people and getting to know them and seeing them smile when I delivered a package. And I became a union steward, taking problems workers had to management and helping to get them solved,” Cotton said. “The first years I was with UPS was when some of the women who were active in the local NAACP started to try to get me interested.”
It was the late 1980’s before he began to learn more about the organization and what it meant — not only to people of color, but to everyone interested in civil rights.
“I not only joined, I moved into the role of president in 2007 or 2008 and I’ve been president ever since,” he told the News-Sun.
Cotton said his position as president of the local NAACP chapter has kept him in contact with city and school officials.
“Sometimes we’ve had to have uncomfortable conversations, but our relationships with the city and the school are open and good,” Cotton said.
As president of a local chapter, Cotton traveled to regional and national conferences, where he met people from all over the country.
“The NAACP is divided into regions,” he said. “New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas are in this region. Those states are represented on the national board by someone who is elected by representatives from the chapters in the states.
“The gentleman from New Mexico was going off the board and someone called me and asked if I would run for his spot on the board.”
Cotton’s first answer was, “No. But after several phone calls asking me, I decided it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I started networking and when we went to the convention in New Jersey last July, I was elected.
“While I was there, I suddenly realized that people have bled, cried and died to give people like me the opportunity to serve in an organization like the NAACP.”
Members of the NAACP board are a diverse group, Cotton said.
“The organization was started by White people and there are White people on the boards and members in local chapters and in state organizations. We want all people to thrive no matter who they are,” Cotton said.
Issues concerning the national, state and local NAACP chapters overlap, but all are important, Cotton said. He identified those issues as education, economic stability, voting rights and health issues.
“We want our kids to graduate from high school, go on to college or to learn a trade, so they can get good paying jobs. We want to be sure that everyone gets good medical care and we know that Black people often don’t get the same level of care that others do.
“But the biggest immediate issue is voting rights. They’re under attack in lots of places.”
In addition to his roles in the NAACP, Cotton is a family man. He and Melva have four adult children, all of whom live in Hobbs, and five grandchildren — one of whom was scheduled to get the braces off her teeth.
“I’ve got to go now,” he told the News-Sun. “I’m taking my granddaughter to get her braces off and we can’t be late for that.”