UPDATED: Former local NAACP president, Michael Latham Sr., dies at 58

The Rev. Michael Latham Sr.

The Rev. Michael Latham Sr., who as president of the Fort Wayne NAACP was one of the city’s leading civil-rights advocates for a decade, has died at the age of 58.

According to a statement issued by New Horizon Church at 2601 Alma Ave., where Michael Latham Jr. is senior pastor, the Alabama native died Friday and was a “pillar in Fort Wayne, viewed by many as a selfless, caring man with a heart for people. His invaluable contributions to the community will not be forgotten. He will be remembered as one of the great community leaders in Fort Wayne . . . (he) was consistent and responsible in challenging us all to do our part to reflect the love of God and improve our city.”

Latham became NAACP president in 1998 and resigned in 2008, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Bill McGill. He made an unsuccessful run for City Council in 2011, receiving 28 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary against incumbent 6th District councilman Glynn Hines, who received 58 percent of the vote.

Despite his decade-long prominence, Latham knew his share of adversity.

“I’m not happy about everything that has happened, but I’ve certainly been blessed. When you nearly die, you look at things differently. This has made me a more-praying person, a better person,” he told The News-Sentinel in 2008 when discussing a series of setbacks.

Two years earlier he had received a 4 a.m. call from Fort Wayne Police informing him his 20-year-old nephew, Antoine Latham, had been shot and killed by a “friend.” Two years before that, Antoine had been the inspiration for Latham’s “United for a Change” program, which found jobs for troubled teens willing to keep their noses clean.

In 1998, the same year he took over the NAACP, Latham learned that, like his mother, he was a diabetic. In July 2008 a bout with meningitis — a swelling of the membrane around the brain or spinal cord — put Latham in the hospital for two weeks.

“It was touch-and-go for a while, but I believed Scripture and decided God wasn’t through with me yet.” he said.

Through it all, Latham worked to improve life for minorities and to reduce crime and boost the economy on the southeast side, at times ruffling feathers but also making friends.

Former Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York credited Latham with keeping an open mind when discussing the often-volatile relationship between minorities and the police. Latham couldn’t risk being perceived as too friendly to the police but also had to be careful not to antagonize the department, said York, who attributed improved racial attitudes within the FWPD to Latham’s influence.

“I admire him,” York said in 2008. “He keeps plugging away (despite the setbacks) and always says, `I’ll pray for you.’ ”

Visitation will be Friday, May 10, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Chapel, 2505 W. Hamilton Road. The funeral will be at the Chapel on Saturday, May 11, at 11 a.m.