The NAACP is mourning the loss of pioneering member Michael Teasley, who was found dead last week, apparently from natural causes. He was 40.

Teasley became the first White president of an NAACP student chapter at a historically Black college in 2010. At the time, he was attending Jackson State in Jackson, Miss.

“Michael Teasley carried on the proud tradition of freedom fighters in Mississippi,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous in a statement. “I will remember him for his passion and commitment. The entire NAACP holds his family, friends and the members of the Jackson State University NAACP in our thoughts and prayers.”

Before taking the helm of the university’s NAACP chapter, Teasley served as 2nd vice president in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Many remember him for his dedication to voter registration.

“I’m doing the exact same thing that other people were murdered for in the 1960s,” he told the Jackson Free Press in 2011. “I started out registering people to vote, and I got to be president of the organization…and I don’t have to worry about being murdered. It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

A product of rural Rankin County, Teasley had an eventful youth. His parents divorced when he was in elementary school. He later dropped out of junior high school, hit the streets and started selling drugs, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

At 18, he turned his life around, however, when his mom died from complications of lupus. He obtained his general equivalency diploma (GED) and spent much of his adult life working various jobs.

Teasley’s dedication to social concerns drew him to the NAACP, particularly its attention to issues of economic disparity.

“I saw back then the gap between the wealthy and the poor, which was widening with the help of things like the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy,” he told the Free Press. “It was all economics with the NAACP. Also, the NAACP was the most prevalent organization on campus that was doing the most work on voter registration and economic awareness — and even teen-pregnancy prevention and the prevention of violence against women — issues that I’m very passionate about anyway.”

Friends and colleagues say Teasley was indefatigable in his work for the NAACP.
“I will always remember Michael’s friendship and his enthusiasm for the work of the NAACP,” stated NAACP Mississippi State Conference President Derrick Johnson. “Michael was dedicated to ensuring that all people receive equity and justice. He was an inspiration to those he worked with.”