Tuesday, 12 February 2013


On February 12, 1909, The NAACP was established.  I wrote this post last year; but thought it would be just as fitting this year, within my Books & Belonging theme.  
I hope you enjoy it!

In 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.  Growing up in this very ‘tolerant’ community, he experienced very little racism, so was admittedly, somewhat oblivious to it. W.E.B. attended Historically-Black CollegeFisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, where he says he “replaced [his] hitherto egocentric world, by a world centering and whirling about [his race].” After graduating from Harvard, with a second Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s Degree; and where he also became the first African-American, in the country, to earn a Doctorate Degree, he became a professor of History, Sociology, Economics, Greek and Latin at several universities, including Atlanta University Wilberforce University and the University of Pennsylvania. Over the decades, Dr. Du Bois evolved into an icon of Black History, as a sociologist, historian, Civil Rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor. One of the most significant parts to his legacy was being one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

W.E.B. Du Bois

The NAACP is an African-American Civil Rights organization in the United States. Although we no longer refer to ourselves as ‘Colored’, the organization has committed to retaining the name out of deference to its origins.  

The history-defining Race Riot of 1908, in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, is often cited as the catalyst to the formation of the NAACP.

However, three years earlier, Dr. Du Bois co-founded The Niagara Movementa group of 32 prominent, outspoken African-Americans who met to discuss the challenges facing "people of color" and possible strategies and solutions to those challenges. Among the issues they were concerned about was the disfranchisement of Black people in the South, such as voter registration barriers. Because hotels in the U.S. were segregated, the men convened at the Fort Erie Hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in Fort Erie, Ontario. Unfortunately, the fledgling group struggled with limited resources and internal conflict, and officially disbanded in 1910 – after the NAACP was born – as basically an amalgamation of the two organizations.

Niagara Movement

The NAACP was technically founded, on February 12, 1909, by a diverse group composed of Black and White people, including, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Archibald Grimké, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villard, William English Walling, Florence Kelley, and Charles Edward Russell. On May 30, 1909, the still-in-existence Niagara Movement conference took place at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House, from which an organization of more than 40 individuals emerged, calling itself the National Negro Committee. Dr. Du Bois played a key role in organizing the event and presided over the proceedings. At its second conference on May 30, 1910, members chose the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as the organization's name. At this point, the Niagara Movement was shut down because it did not make sense to run two, parallel, organizations with many of the same members and goals.

At the time of the launch, the NAACP also launched its monthly magazine, The Crisis; and Dr. Du Bois served as its Editor.

The NAACP was incorporated a year later, in 1911. The Association's charter delineated its mission:

“To promote equality of rights and to eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for the children, employment according to their ability and complete equality before law.”

Somewhat ironically, the NAACP’s leadership was predominantly White and heavily Jewish-American. In fact, at its founding, the NAACP had only one African-American on its Executive Board, Dr. Du Bois, himself. It did not elect a Black President until 1975, although Executive Directors had been African-American. The Jewish community contributed greatly to the NAACP's founding, continued financing the organization and had prominent members, such as Albert Einstein, who was very influential within the Princeton, New Jersey chapter of the NAACP.

In its early years, the NAACP concentrated on using the courts to overturn the Jim Crow statutes that legalized racial segregation. In 1913, the NAACP organized opposition to President Woodrow Wilson's introduction of racial segregation into federal government policy, offices, and hiring.

By 1914, the group had 6,000 members and 50 branches. It was influential in winning the right of African-Americans to serve as officers in World War I, with 600 African-American officers being commissioned and 700,000 men registered for the draft. The following year, the NAACP organized a nationwide protest, with marches in numerous cities, against D.W. Griffith's silent film, Birth of a Nation, a film that glamorized the Ku Klux Klan. As a result, several cities refused to allow the film to open.

The NAACP devoted much of its energy during the years between World Wars I and II to fighting the lynching of Black people throughout the United States, by working for legislation, lobbying, and educating the public. The NAACP also spent more than a decade seeking Federal legislation against lynching, but Southern White Democrats voted as a block against it or used the filibuster in the Senate to block passage. Because of disfranchisement, there were no Black representatives from the South in Congress. The NAACP regularly displayed a black flag stating "A Man Was Lynched Yesterday," from the window of its offices in New York, to mark each lynching.

In alliance with the American Federation of Labor, the NAACP led the successful fight to prevent the nomination of John Johnston Parker to the Supreme Court, based on his support for denying the vote to Black people, as well as his anti-labor rulings. 

John Johnston Parker

The NAACP Youth & College Division was launched in 1936 and now boasts 600+ State, County, High School and College/University chapters with 30,000+ members, nationwide. The young people volunteer to share their voices or opinions with their peers and address local, national and sometimes, international issues.

NAACP Youth Council Members in 1940

Today's NAACP Youth Members at The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

The Board of Directors of the NAACP created the Legal Defense Fund in 1939, specifically for tax purposes. It was led by Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall; and it functioned as the NAACP’s Legal Department. Intimidated by the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service, the Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Inc., became a separate legal entity in 1957, although it was clear that it was to operate in accordance with NAACP policy.

The campaign for desegregation culminated in a unanimous, 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, that held State-sponsored segregation of elementary schools, was unconstitutional.

Bolstered by that victory, the NAACP pushed for full desegregation throughout the South. For example, in December 1955, NAACP activist, Rosa Parks, who had served as the Montgomery, Alabama chapter's Secretary, helped to organize the historic, Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 381 days.

The State of Alabama responded by effectively barring the NAACP from operating within its borders because of its refusal to divulge a list of its members, so the NAACP sued the State. Although the Supreme Court eventually overturned the State's action in NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), the NAACP lost its leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement, while it was barred from Alabama.

NAACP vs Alabama Press Conference

New organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) rose up with different approaches to activism. These newer groups relied on direct action and mass mobilization to advance the rights of African-Americans, rather than litigation and legislation. Roy Wilkins, NAACP's Executive Director, at the time, often clashed with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights leaders, over questions of strategy and leadership within the movement. 

Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King and others in the Oval Office w/Pres. Lyndon Johnson

By the mid-1960s, the NAACP had regained some of its stature and influence during the Civil Rights Movement by pressing for civil rights action, such as helping to organize the March on Washington in August 1963 (interestingly, Dr. Du Bois died in Ghana, on the eve of The March); and Civil Rights legislation, such as the Civil Rights Bill, which was first introduced by President John F. Kennedy, and passed by Congress and President Lyndon Johnson, following President Kennedy’s assassination.

After Kivie Kaplan died in 1975, scientist, W. Montague Cobb, became the first Black President of the NAACP and served until 1982. Benjamin Hooks, a lawyer and clergyman, was elected as the NAACP's Executive Director in 1977.

W. Montague Cobb

In the 1990s, the NAACP ran into debt. The dismissal of two leading officials further added to the picture of an organization in deep crisis:

In 1993, the NAACP's Board of Directors narrowly selected Reverend Benjamin Chavis over Reverend Jesse Jackson to fill the position of Executive Director. A controversial figure, Chavis was ousted eighteen months later by the same Board that had hired him. They accused him of using NAACP funds for an out-of-court settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Following the dismissal of Mr. Chavis, Myrlie Evers-Williams narrowly defeated NAACP Chairman, William Gibson, for President, in 1995, after Mr. Gibson was accused of overspending and mismanaging the organization's funds.

Ben Chavis
Myrlie Evers-Williams

In 1996, Congressman Kweisi Mfume, a Democratic Congressman from Maryland and former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was named the organization's President. Three years later, strained finances forced the organization to drastically cut its staff, from 250 in 1992 to just fifty.

In the second half of the 1990s, the organization restored its finances, permitting the NAACP National Voter Fund to launch a major get-out-the-vote offensive in the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections. 10.5 million African-Americans cast their ballots in the election, which was one million more than four years before; and the NAACP's effort was credited by observers as playing a significant role in Democrat Al Gore's winning several States where the election was close, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Al Gore at the 40th NAACP Image Awards

The NAACP continues to be headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. The current Chairman is Roslyn Brock, and the President & CEO is Benjamin Todd Jealous.

Roslyn Brock & Benjamin Todd Jealous

In addition to continuing its mission, which was set over 100 years ago, the NAACP has been bestowing its annual Image Awards, since 1969, for achievement in Arts and Entertainment, and which recently took place on February 17th; and each year, it also awards one deserving African-American, the Spingarn Medal, which was created in 1914, for his/her outstanding, positive achievement during the previous year.

First African-American Governor (of Virginia), Douglas Wilder, Receiving Spingarn Medal from Benjamin Hooks

While there may currently be an African-American in the White House, and many advances have been made by people of color, since 1909, the NAACP is still very much relevant because we, as a people, still have so much more ‘advancing’ to do. To quote its website: “From the ballot box to the classroom, the thousands of dedicated workers, organizers, leaders and members who make up the NAACP continue to fight for social justice for all Americans." 

To find out more about the NAACP, visit  http://www.naacp.org/

W.E.B. Du Bois at 1929 NAACP Conference

Sources: Wikipedia, NAACP, Google Images

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