National Association for The Advancement of Colored People (Naacp)
National Association for The Advancement of Colored People (Naacp)
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was incorporated in 1910 as an organization dedicated to mobilization on behalf of racial justice. The founding of the organization occurred through the discourse and several meetings among black and white intellectuals, business persons, educators, and professionals who, over a number of years prior to the NAACP's founding, laid the groundwork to mobilize efforts to fight racial discrimination against African Americans. Many of the leaders and participants of these precursory efforts reached a consensus on developing a major organization that would fight racial discrimination, and eventually, the NAACP was established.
One meeting that contributed to the development of the NAACP was held in Niagara Falls, New York, in 1905; this meeting marked the founding of the Niagara Movement. At the meeting, the participants discussed their opposition to the accommodationist policies of Booker T. Washington (1856–1915). They supported black progress by way of higher education in cultural and scientific studies, economic development, and integration within the formal political structures with full citizenship rights, the franchise, and civil rights.
By the time of the second annual Niagara Movement meeting in 1906, several members were alarmed by the continuing brutality, lynching, and loss of property, among other oppressive conditions, facing blacks at that time. This led white leaders Mary White Ovington (1865–1951) and Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949), grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879), along with W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), to convene a meeting, referred to as The Call, to discuss the “Negro question.” On February 12, 1909, the one-hundredth anniversary of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), fifty-three signatories (who comprised the membership of the National Negro Committee) called for a national conference to be held on May 30, 1909.
By the time the second national conference was held in May 1910, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was incorporated by five people: Du Bois, Villard, Ovington, Walter E. Sachs (1884–1980), and John Haynes Holmes (1879–1964). The Niagara Movement, from which the NAACP was an outgrowth, eventually dissolved. Many of the movement's members, however, were also members of the NAACP. Continuing many of the concerns of the Niagara Movement, the NAACP proposed to address the social and political equality of African Americans. A 1911 NAACP program declared that its objectives were to sponsor meetings and lectures on questions about race, political representation, foreign affairs, antilynching policy, disfranchisement, educational inequities, discrimination in employment, crime, and public accommodations.
The organization's leadership consisted of a National Board of Directors that was elected from a slate of candidates chosen by the NAACP Nominating Committee. Members of the National Board of Directors had the power to establish committees, departments, bureaus, branches, and college chapters. The National Board of Directors consisted of the president (an ex officio member), vice president, treasurer, chairman of the board (the most powerful officer of the association), and the executive secretary. Other NAACP members made up youth councils, college chapters, and various branches within states.
Some notable former members of the NAACP Board of Directors include the political scientist Ralph Bunche (1904–1971) and Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945). Other famous members include Du Bois, who acted as the director of publicity and research and who, for a number of years, acted as editor of the association's chief publication, The Crisis. Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931), a strong advocate of antilynching policy in the early twentieth century, was also a member. James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), known for writing the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the “Negro national anthem,” was a national organizer of membership, and he later became executive secretary of the organization.
NAACP membership was (and continues to be) open to all people, regardless of race. Much of the leadership in the early organization consisted of whites. Since 1932, when Louis T. Wright (1891–1952), a black man, was appointed to the Board of Directors, African Americans have been more central to the association's leadership. Today, the organization is structured similarly to its past organization, comprising a National Board of Directors, several departments, state branches with regional offices, youth councils, and college chapters. Julian Bond, a longtime civil rights activist, became chair of the Board of Directors in 1998. In 2005 Bruce S. Gordon became NAACP president, replacing Kweisi Mfume, a civil rights activist and former Maryland representative of the U.S. House of Representative who had served as NAACP president since 1996.
Despite its sound leadership, strong following, and prior financial stability, the NAACP faced both financial difficulties and leadership woes during the early 1990s. During this time, the NAACP experienced alleged financial malfeasance, a budget deficit, and a sex scandal that involved its president, Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. (now known as Benjamin F. Chavis Muhammad). The controversy surrounding Chavis's leadership led to his being asked by the National Board of Directors to resign from the presidency. Mfume is credited with leading the organization out of its troubled period.
In 2006 the NAACP comprised over two thousand local chapters and more than 500,000 members. It faces the challenge of increasing its membership among a younger generation of political activists. Financial support comes mostly from individuals and corporate donors. Prior to the separation of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF, also known as the “Inc. Fund”) from the main organization, the association benefited financially from tax-exempt donations made to the Inc. Fund. The NAACP also has tax-exempt charitable status, which was initiated via the NAACP Special Contribution Fund in 1964.
NAACP political activism consists of policy reviews, political lobbying, political protests, political mobilization, and legal challenges. The organization's early policy concerns were related to African Americans acquiring civil rights. The NAACP compiled and disseminated information to members and other blacks about senators' and representatives' votes on policies that affected civil rights. This information served as a public record of official support for antiblack policies and as a means by which support could be galvanized for NAACP policy concerns.
The NAACP lobbied U.S. presidents and members of Congress for support of civil rights policies, and openly opposed President Woodrow Wilson's (1856–1924) initiation of segregation in the federal government. Early pressure from the NAACP in the 1940s contributed to President Franklin Roosevelt's implementation of Executive Order 8802, which desegregated the American defense industry. Such pressure on the executive branch also resulted in President Harry S Truman (1884–1972) implementing Executive Order 10308, which created a committee to enforce the prohibition of racial discrimination in employment.
In 1930 the NAACP successfully galvanized support in Congress to block the confirmation of Judge Robert Parker of North Carolina (an opponent of black rights) to the U.S. Supreme Court. Similar tactics have been used by the association in more recent years to acknowledge support or nonsupport of various nominations to government posts.
In the early twentieth century, Walter White (1893–1955), former NAACP executive secretary, and James Weldon Johnson lobbied Congress to secure the passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, but the bill failed due to a lack of support in the Senate, despite its passage in the House of Representatives. Thereafter, the NAACP decreased its attention to antilynching policy and adopted a focus on other policy interests. Important legislative victories—the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968—occurred as a result of the efforts of NAACP leaders Roy Wilkins (1901–1981) and Clarence Mitchell (1911–1984).
In international affairs, the NAACP denounced African colonization, calling international conferences on the subject in 1919, 1921, 1923, 1927, and 1944. The Pan-African Congress (under the direction of DuBois) specifically asked the U.S. president to take a stand against colonialism and the exploitation of black people around the world.
Political protests by NAACP members also challenged segregated environments. Rosa Parks (1913–2005), an NAACP member, ignited protests across the South when she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Moreover, sit-ins by NAACP Youth Council members in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 led to nonviolent protest strategies that challenged and eventually desegregated lunch counters.
One of the most effective strategies for fighting racial discrimination consisted of the NAACP litigating Jim Crow laws in the South and eventually in other regions of the country. Charles Hamilton Houston (1895–1950), special counsel for the NAACP and dean of Howard University Law School, launched the NAACP's litigation campaign.
In 1939 Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993), an NAACP attorney who was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, formalized the litigation strategy within the NAACP when he developed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Becoming a formal entity within the NAACP in 1940, the LDF fought cases that challenged restrictions against blacks voting in primary elections (Smith v. Allwright, 1944); restrictive covenants (Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948); and educational segregation and discrimination (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954). These LDF efforts effectively changed the second-class citizenship status of African Americans. The landmark decision in Brown declared that the “separate but equal” doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was unconstitutional.
Upon the separation of the LDF from the NAACP in 1957, Robert Carter (NAACP general counsel) continued the NAACP's litigation strategies through the NAACP Legal Department. Under Carter's counsel, the NAACP won a decision in Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960), in which the Supreme Court acknowledged the concept of “one person, one vote.”
The NAACP was one of the leading civil rights organizations of the modern civil rights movement, along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, founded in 1942), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, founded in 1960), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC, founded in 1956), and the National Urban League (founded in 1910). These organizations mostly supported nonviolent, direct action strategies (sit-ins, marches, picketing, and especially litigation) to protest racial discrimination.
By the mid-1960s SNCC (whose membership comprised many of the black youth in the movement) and CORE became more radical and militant as members became frustrated with the violent and mostly unmoved opposition of many white Americans to black progress. SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998) expressly supported the notion of “Black Power” as a new objective of black protest. The commitment of the NAACP and other organizations to integrationism (integrating blacks in white society) contrasted with the increasingly nationalistic sentiments of activists like Carmichael and other black youth, as Black Power and black nationalism garnered more support among the black masses.
The national executive director at that time, Roy Wilkins, publicly denounced what he perceived to be the racially separatist and antiwhite orientation of Black Power ideology. The Black Panther Party, at that time a prominent black nationalist organization and a leading proponent of Black Power, disagreed with a political strategy that focused on integrating blacks with whites in society. Instead, the Black Panthers emphasized building the black community (without white resources or integration) to address race and poverty. The party supported building a “black nation.”
The Black Panther Party criticized the NAACP as being a mainstream, passive, and bourgeois civil rights organization that represented older, outmoded views about the position of blacks in American society. Moreover, the Black Panthers disagreed with the NAACP's strategy to address racial discrimination without self-defense and without critical opposition to class oppression. In contrast, the Black Panther Party supported more militaristic tactics to protest racial discrimination and violence by whites, and it focused on implementing programs that addressed the overwhelming poverty of black Americans. Although the NAACP supported pacifist resistance and protest movements on a national level, some local chapters and members—in particular, Robert F. Williams (1925–1966), president of the Monroe, North Carolina, chapter of the NAACP—supported self-defense tactics that were akin to the black nationalist tenets of the Black Panther Party.
The vanguard leadership of the NAACP also differed generationally and ideologically from the Black Panther Party, which was comprised mostly of black youth. This generational difference translated into what members of the Black Panther Party perceived to be the desire of older activists to assimilate into white society, as opposed to appreciating black culture as distinct from white influence. The Black Panther Party ushered in an increasing embrace of black pride among black youth and the black masses—a transformation of African American identity that also emphasized less reliance on white resources and more appreciation for black self-determination. As support for black pride became more popular among the black masses, the NAACP became more supportive of black consciousness and black community-building. As always, however, the NAACP was prejudicial about racial separatism.
Over the years, the NAACP has continued to address issues related to race and discrimination. It has also incorporated into its political agenda more programs focusing on economic inequality. Such issues as disparities in education, redistricting and vote dilution, fair housing, criminal justice, and environmental racism now form part of the NAACP's commitment to fighting racial discrimination. The NAACP has also protested apartheid in South Africa, sponsored voter registration drives, encouraged increased voter turnout, challenged negative images of blacks in the media, promoted economic empowerment, and advocated improved healthcare regardless of race. NAACP activism has been extended to address the discrimination of various racial and ethnic minorities, while still focusing on the conditions of African Americans.
SEE ALSO African American Studies; African Americans; Black Panthers; Black Power; Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Civil Rights; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Integration; Jim Crow; Race; Segregation
Cose, Ellis, and Vern E. Smith. 1994. The Fall of Benjamin Chavis: Civil Rights: How the NAACP's Controversial Leader Did Himself In. Newsweek 124 (9): 27.
Greenberg, Jack. 1994. Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Basic Books.
Hosenhall, Mark, and Vern E. Smith. 1994. Trial by Fire at the NAACP: Civil Rights, the Scandal Engulfing Director Ben Chavis Could Threaten the Entire Organization. Newsweek 124 (8): 24.
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Kweisi Mfume Takes the NAACP Out of the Recovery Room. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 29: 40–41.
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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. http://www.naacp.org.
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Shayla C. Nunnally
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Founded in 1909, the organization formerly known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and now called simply NAACP is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, with a staff of more than 220 persons, the interracial NAACP works for the elimination of racial discrimination through lobbying, legal action, and education. With its victories in landmark Supreme Court cases such as brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), as well as its sponsorship of grassroots social programs, the NAACP has been a leader in the effort to guarantee that African Americans and members of other racial minorities receive equal protection under the law.
The NAACP grew out of race riots that occurred in Springfield, Illinois, in August 1908. Shocked at the violence directed against African Americans by white mobs in Abraham Lincoln's hometown, William English Walling, a white socialist, wrote a magazine article that called for the formation of a group to come to the aid of African Americans. The following year, Walling met with two young white social workers, Mary White Ovington and Henry Moskowitz, and began planning a course of action. They enlisted the aid of Oswald Garrison Villard, grandson of the abolitionist william lloyd garrison, to publicize the Conference on the Status of the Negro, to be held that May. The conference drew several hundred people, many of whom would unite a year later as the NAACP.
Although originally the NAACP leadership was largely white, since the 1920s, it has been primarily African American. The organization drew many of its original white members from progressive and socialist ranks, and most of its first African American members through the leadership of the historian and sociologist w. e. b. du bois. Du Bois and booker t. washington were the two principal African American leaders of the day. Du Bois had led the Niagara Movement, an African American protest organization, since 1905, and he brought the membership of that organization into the NAACP. He was named director of publicity and research for the NAACP in 1910, and he edited the organization's highly respected journal, The Crisis, until 1934.
From the beginning, the NAACP made legal action on behalf of African Americans a top priority. It won early Supreme Court victories in Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347, 35 S. Ct. 926, 59 L. Ed. 1340 (1915), which overturned the grandfather clause as a means of disfranchising black voters, and in Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 38 S. Ct. 16, 62 L. Ed. 149 (1917), which barred municipal ordinances requiring racial segregation in housing. The grandfather clause imposed a literacy test on persons who were not entitled to vote prior to 1866. This meant that all slaves and their descendants had to pass a rigorous literacy test based on knowledge of the state constitution and other highly technical documents. Few, if any, African Americans passed the test.
The NAACP appointed its first African American executive director, james weldon johnson, in 1920. Under Johnson and his successor, Walter White, who led the organization from 1931 to 1955, the NAACP worked for the passage of a federal antilynching law. Although unsuccessful in its efforts to pass a federal law, the NAACP brought public attention to the brutality of lynching and helped to significantly reduce its occurrence. As a result, lynching—which is the infliction of punishment, usually hanging, by a mob without trial—is now illegal in every state.
In 1941 the NAACP established its Washington, D.C., bureau as the legislative advocacy and lobbying arm of the organization. The bureau does the strategic planning and coordination of NAACP political action and legislation program. It acts as the liaison between NAACP units and government agencies, and it coordinates the work of other organizations that support NAACP programs and proposals.
The bureau sponsors the annual Legislative Mobilization which informs participants of the NAACP legislative agenda, monitors and advocates for NAACP civil rights and related legislation, and prepares an annual "Report Card" showing how each member of Congress voted on key civil rights issues.
For its early litigation efforts, the NAACP relied on lawyers who volunteered their services. In 1934, the group hired charles hamilton houston, an African American and dean of Howard Law School, as its first full-time attorney. The following year, Houston started a legal campaign to end school segregation. Houston was assisted by thurgood marshall, a young lawyer who would go on to argue many cases before the Supreme Court and in 1967 would become the first African American appointed to the Court. In 1940, the NAACP appointed Marshall director-counsel of its new legal branch, the naacp legal defense and educational fund (LDF). In 1957, the LDF became a separate entity.
After succeeding in Supreme Court cases concerning unequal salary scales for black teachers and segregation in graduate and professional schools, the NAACP achieved its most celebrated triumph before the Court in Brown, a decision that declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.
The Brown decision sparked another civil rights initiative, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955. The boycott catapulted martin luther king jr. to national recognition and spurred the creation of the southern christian leadership conference (SCLC). By the early 1960s, the SCLC, the student nonviolent coordinating committee (SNCC), the congress of racial equality (CORE), and the national urban league all promoted civil rights for African Americans. These groups adopted a direct-action approach to promoting African American interests by conducting highly publicized sit-ins and demonstrations.
The NAACP, meanwhile, drew criticism for its devotion to traditional legal and political means for seeking social change. roy wilkins, executive director of the NAACP from 1955 to 1975, voiced his preference for traditional tactics over "the kind that picks a fight with the sheriff and gets somebody's head beaten" (Spear 1984, 7:402). Although many viewed it as overly conservative in its civil rights approach, the NAACP helped pass important civil rights legislation such as the civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.), the voting rights act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.), and the fair housing act of 1968 (42 U.S.C.A. § 3601 et seq.). The NAACP remained an interracial group and spurned the call for black nationalism and separatism voiced by SNCC, the black panthers, and other groups that turned to blacks-only membership later in the 1960s.
Unlike many of the more radical civil rights groups, the NAACP outlasted the turbulent 1960s. However, it experienced setbacks during the 1970s in Supreme Court cases such as Bradley v. Millikin, 418 U.S. 717, 94 S. Ct. 3112, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1069 (1974), which overturned efforts to integrate largely white suburban public school districts and largely black urban districts, and regents of university of california v. bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 57 L. Ed. 2d 750 (1978), which placed limits on affirmative action programs.
benjamin l. hooks succeeded Wilkins as NAACP director in 1977. He held that office until 1993, when he was replaced by Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. Leadership and funding problems plagued the NAACP during the mid-1990s. After a sexual harassment suit was filed against Chavis in 1994, the NAACP board of
|National Association for the Advancement of Colored People|
|source: NAACP web page; Simple Justice by Richard Kluger (1975).|
|1905||W. E. B. Du Bois and others founded the Niagara Movement|
|1908||Race riots erupted in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's hometown|
|1909||On 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday, more than sixty citizens issued a "call" for a national conference to renew the struggle for civil and political liberty; the group and conference formed the foundation of the NAACP|
|1910||National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chosen as group's name at second annual conference; William Walling chosen as executive director; W. E. B. Du Bois chosen as director of publicity and research and editor of the Crisis|
|1915||In Guinn v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down grandfather clauses in state constitutions as unconstitutional barriers to voting rights granted under the Fifteenth Amendment|
|1917||Supreme Court barred municipal ordinances requiring racial segregation in housing in Buchanan v. Warley|
|1920||NAACP appointed its first African American executive director, James Weldon Johnson|
|1923||Supreme Court ruled in Moore v. Dempsey that exclusion of African Americans from a jury was inconsistent with the right to a fair trial|
|1931||Walter White appointed to succeed Johnson as director of NAACP|
|1934||Charles Hamilton Houston hired as NAACP's first full-time attorney|
|1936||Thurgood Marshall joined NAACP as special counsel|
|1940||NAACP created separate legal arm, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and appointed Marshall as its director-counsel|
|1941||Secretary of Army authorized first segregated airman unit, the 99th Squadron, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen|
|1948||Marshall's team argued Shelley v. Kraemer, which struck down racially restrictive (land) covenants; President Truman abolished racial segregation in armed services by executive order|
|1950||In Sweatt v. Painter, Supreme Court ruled racially segregated professional schools inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional; first integrated combat units saw action in Korea|
|1954||Marshall's team argued Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which ruled racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional|
|1955||Roy Wilkins appointed to succeed White as NAACP's executive director|
|1961||Marshall appointed to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Jack Greenberg succeeded Marshall as director of LDF|
|1964||NAACP lobbying led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964|
|1965||NAACP lobbying led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965|
|1967||Thurgood Marshall became first African American associate justice of the Supreme Court|
|1968||NAACP lobbying led to passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968|
|1972||U.S. Supreme Court declared existing capital punishment laws unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia|
|1974||NAACP experienced a setback when Supreme Court overturned efforts to integrate largely white suburban school districts with largely black urban districts in Milliken v. Bradley|
|1976||Georgia, Florida, and Texas drafted new death penalty laws; Supreme Court upheld these new laws|
|1977||Benjamin Hooks succeeded Wilkins as NAACP's executive director|
|1978||Supreme Court placed limits on affirmative action programs in Regents of University of California v. Bakke|
|1993||Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. appointed to succeed Hooks as NAACP's executive director|
|1994||NAACP board of directors voted to oust Chavis after sexual harassment suit was filed against him|
|1995||Myrlie Evers-Williams replaced William F. Gibson as chairman of the NAACP board of directors|
|1996||NAACP board appointed Kweisi Mfume, a U.S. representative from Maryland, as president and chief financial officer; Mfume cut national staff by third as first step in returning NAACP to financial health|
|1997||NAACP launched the Economic Reciprocity Program|
|2000||TV diversity agreements; retirement of the debt and first six years of a budget surplus; largest black voter turnout in 20 years|
|2001||Cincinnati riots; development of five year strategic plan|
directors voted to oust him as executive director. The following year, it dismissed board chairman William F. Gibson and replaced him with myrlie evers-williams, the widow of civil rights activist medgar evers. Seeking to put aside its troubles, on February 20, 1996, the NAACP board appointed Kweisi Mfume, a U.S. representative from Maryland and head of the Congressional Black Caucus, as the organization's new president and chief executive officer. To restore the organization's financial stability, Mfume cut back the national staff by one-third.
Among its many tasks, the NAACP works on the local level to handle cases of racial discrimination; offers referral services, tutorials, and day care; sponsors the NAACP National Housing Corporation to help develop low- and moderate-income housing for families; offers programs to youths and prison inmates; and maintains a law library. It also lobbies Congress regarding the appointment of Supreme Court justices.
The NAACP accepts people of all races and religions as members. In the early 2000s it had a membership of over 500,000, with 2,200 units (including more than 600 youth councils and college chapters) in the United States and around the world. The organization continues to struggle with the need to increase member-ship and retain relevancy while advocating for various civil rights issues. In 2000 the board instituted mandatory training for NAACP local leadership. More than 10,000 branch officers and executive committee members attended the training, and the organization removed 800 officers and committee members who did not attend.
The NAACP has also taken steps to build coalitions with black youth. NAACP president Kweisi Mfume sits on the board of Summit Action Network, a coalition of hip hop music stars as well as record company executives and community organizations that seek to educate and mobilize fans of rap music to register and vote in local and national elections. In addition, the NAACP has sought to overcome political differences and gain the support of the country's major Latino civil right organizations including the league of united latin american citizens (LULAC) and the national council of la raza. In January 2003 the NAACP announced that the united nations had designated it as a non-governmental organization (NGO). The NGO designation meant that the NAACP could advise and consult with foreign governments and with the U.N. secretariat on issues relating to human rights.
In 2001 the NAACP signed a new three-year contract with Mfume to continue as the organization's president and CEO. Mfume continued to move ahead with his action agenda that emphasizes civil rights, political empowerment, educational excellence, economic development, and health and youth outreach. The NAACP Board of Directors continued to implement its plan to streamline and strengthen the governing procedures of the organization. For the first time since its inception in 1909, the board began revising and updating its constitution and bylaws. Up to this point each NAACP unit including state conferences, youth councils, college chapters, and local chapters had its own constitution and bylaws. The goal of the board is to have a uniform set of governing documents that are understandable and "user-friendly."
NAACP. Available online at <www.naacp.org> (accessed July 28, 2003).
Rhym, Darren. 2002. The NAACP. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.
Schneider, Mark R. 2002. We Return Fighting: The Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.
"NAACP." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/naacp
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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE. African American communities, usually through their churches, made several attempts to organize in the late nineteenth century. The only national organization to last from these efforts was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909. The NAACP was originally founded by an inter-racial group of white progressives and black militants belonging to the Niagara Movement. In response to the Springfield, Illinois, race riot of August 1908, a distinguished gathering that included the journalist William English Walling, the social worker Mary White Ovington, the newspaper editor Oswald Garrison Villard, and the scholar W. E. B. Du Bois issued "The Call" for a national conference on black rights to meet on 12 February 1909, the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. The conference formed the National Negro Committee, out of which the NAACP emerged in May 1910.
At its formation, the NAACP adopted a militant program of action based on the platform of its radical fore-runner, the Niagara Movement, demanding equal educational, political, and civil rights for blacks and the enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The NAACP initially employed two basic methods in its protest philosophy—the legal approach and public education. Relying on an integrated and middle-class approach to reform, the NAACP stressed corrective education, legislation, and litigation rather than more radical, disruptive protest. The first years of the NAACP were dedicated to the problems of mob violence and lynching. Between 1915 and 1936, under the leadership of Arthur B. Spingarn, white and black attorneys for the NAACP, including Moorfield Story, Louis Marshall, and Clarence Darrow, attacked four areas of injustice: suffrage, residential segregation ordinances, restrictive covenants, and due process/equal protection for African Americans accused of crimes. The NAACP legal committee joined other organizations, such as the National Urban League, and won its first important victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in Guinn and Beal v. United States (1915), which overturned the amendment to Oklahoma's state constitution that exempted from literacy tests those or the descendents of those who had been eligible to vote prior to 1 January 1867. Other states had enacted similar "grandfather clauses," the clear intent of which was to deny blacks the vote. A second case, Buchanan v. Warley (1917), nullified Jim Crow housing ordinances in Louisville, Kentucky, as they were found to be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
During the post–World War I period, the organization, led by its African American executive secretary James Weldon Johnson, focused its attention on antilynching legislation. Although no federal antilynching bills were passed by Congress, in an age of increasing racism and the national rise to prominence of the Ku Klux Klan, the NAACP's aggressive campaign heightened public awareness of and opposition to mob violence against blacks and firmly established the organization as the national spokesman for African Americans.
Over the next three decades, the NAACP directed its attention to voting rights, housing, and the desegregation of public education. In the 1930s, under the leadership of Charles Houston, former dean of the Howard University Law School, the NAACP prepared its first cases aimed at "the soft underbelly" of Jim Crow—graduate schools. In 1935, NAACP lawyers Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall won the legal battle to admit an African American student, Donald Gaines Murray, to the University of Maryland Law School. Building on the strategy and issues used in the Murray case, the NAACP legal counsel finally argued its first case involving education and the "separate but equal" doctrine before the Supreme Court in Missouri ex. rel. Gaines v. Canada in 1938. Although the court decision reaffirmed the doctrine that separate educational facilities were legal if equal, the road to the 1954 Brown decision had been paved.
During the depression, the NAACP had notable successes, the most famous of which was in response to the barring of the acclaimed soprano Marian Anderson from performing at the Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The NAACP helped to have her concert moved to the Lincoln Memorial, where over 75,000 people attended.
Between 1940 and 1950, the NAACP fought in the courts in two areas, racial injustice in court procedures and discrimination in the voting process. The first case, involving a forced confession of a crime, Lyons v. Oklahoma (1944), resulted in a setback for the NAACP legal team, but the second case, Smith v. Allwright (1944), resulted in banning the all-white primary in Texas. During World War II, the NAACP led the effort to ensure that President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a nondiscrimination policy in war-related industries and federal employment. In 1946, the NAACP won the Morgan v. Virginia case, which banned states from having laws that sanction segregated facilities in interstate travel by train and bus. The NAACP was also influential in pressuring President Harry Truman to sign Executive Order 9981 banning discrimination by the federal government and subsequently integrating the armed forces in 1948.
With Thurgood Marshall as its special legal counsel, the NAACP figured prominently in a series of Supreme Court decisions that outlawed residential covenants against black homebuyers (Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948) and ordered the integration of the University of Oklahoma (Sipuel v. University of Oklahoma, 1948) and the University of Texas (Sweatt v. Painter, 1950). These successful cases on higher education issues helped lead to the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka of May 1954, which finally declared segregated schools unequal and unconstitutional. The Brown decision marked the beginning of the end of the formal aspects of Jim Crow and ushered in a new and stormy course for race relations in the form of the civil rights movement. Although it worked with a variety of newly formed African American–led groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the NAACP's hegemony as the country's major civil rights group was unchallenged.
After one of his many successful mass rallies for civil rights, the NAACP's first field director, Medgar Evers, was assassinated in front of his house in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963; five months later, President John F. Kennedy was also assassinated, setting the course of the civil rights movement in a different direction, through legislative action. The NAACP achieved its goals by playing a leading role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which established the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Commission on Civil Rights. The NAACP worked for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which not only forbade discrimination in public places, but also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
As the NAACP entered the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, it remained an active force among African Americans committed to racial integration, and it continued to work successfully to fight discrimination in housing and strengthen the penalties for violations of civil rights. The organization helped win extensions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and led successful efforts in 1972 to increase the power of the EEOC. Under its executive secretary, Roy Wilkins, the NAACP had a membership of 433,118 in 1,555 branches located in all fifty states by 1975.
In 1982, the NAACP registered more than 850,000 voters, and its protests helped prevent President Ronald Reagan from giving a tax break to the racially segregated Bob Jones University. The NAACP led a massive antiapartheid rally in New York in 1985 and launched a campaign that helped defeat the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. In 1996, Maryland congressman Kweisi Mfume left Congress and became the NAACP's president. As the twenty-first century started, the NAACP continued to follow its original goals of fighting social injustice through legal and political action.
Harris, Jacqueline L. History and Achievement of the NAACP. New York: Watts, 1992.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Web site http://www.naacp.org/.
Ovington, Mary W. Black and White Sat Down Together: The Reminiscences of an NAACP Founder. New York: Feminist Press, 1995.
Tushnet, Mark V. NAACP's Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925–1990. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Zangrando, Robert L. The NAACP Crusade against Lynching, 1909–1950. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.
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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organization composed mainly of American blacks, but with many white members, whose goal is the end of racial discrimination and segregation.
The association was formed as the direct result of the lynching (1908) of two blacks in Springfield, Ill. The incident produced a wide response by white Northerners to a call by Mary W. Ovington, a white woman, for a conference to discuss ways of achieving political and social equality for blacks. This conference led to the formation (1910) of the NAACP, headed by eight prominent Americans, seven white and one, William E. B. Du Bois, black. The selection of Du Bois was significant, for he was a black who had rejected the policy of gradualism advocated by Booker T. Washington and demanded immediate equality for blacks. From 1910 to 1934 Du Bois was the editor of the association's periodical The Crisis, which reported on race relations around the world. The new organization grew so rapidly that by 1915 it was able to organize a partially successful boycott of the motion picture The Birth of a Nation, which portrayed blacks of the Reconstruction era in a distorted light.
Most of the NAACP's early efforts were directed against lynching. In this area it could claim considerable success. In 1911 there were 71 lynchings in the United States, with a black person the victim 63 times; by the 1950s lynching had virtually disappeared. Since its beginning, and with increasing emphasis since World War II, the NAACP has advocated nonviolent protests against discrimination and has disapproved of extremist black groups such as SNCC and the Black Panthers in the 1960s and 70s and CORE and the Nation of Islam in the 1980s and 90s, many of which criticized the organization as passive. While complacent in the 1980s, it became more active in legislative redistricting, voter registration, and lobbying in the 1990s.
Well-known leaders of the NAACP include Moorfield Storey (1910–29), Walter White (1931–55), Roy Wilkins (1955–77), and Benjamin Hooks (1977–93). In the mid-1990s the group faced financial difficulties and a loss of confidence in its leadership, as the organization's executive director, Benjamin Chavis (see Muhammad, B. F.), and board chairman, William Gibson, were dismissed in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Merlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, replaced Gibson in 1995, and Representative Kweisi Mfume of Maryland, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was chosen to replace Chavis in 1996, with the new title of president and chief executive officer. Mfume retired as president in 2004 and was succeeded by Bruce S. Gordon, a former telecommunications executive, who served from 2005 to 2007, and Benjamin Todd Jealous, who served from 2008 to 2013. Cornell William Brooks was named as Jealous's successor in 2014. Roslyn M. Brock has been board chairwoman since 2010.
With a membership of about 300,000, the association remains the most influential civil-rights organization in the United States. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, an independent legal aid group, argues in court on behalf of the NAACP and other civil-rights groups. Along with the NAACP, it was instrumental in helping to bring about the Supreme Court's ruling (1954) against segregated public education in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. case.
See R. L. Jack, A History of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1943); L. Hughes, Fight for Freedom (1962); B. J. Ross, J. E. Spingarn and the Rise of the NAACP, 1911–1939 (1972); R. L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade against Lynching, 1909 to 1950 (1980).
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NAACP / ˈen dəbəl ā sē ˈpē/ • abbr. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States. Since its founding in the first decade of the twentieth century, it has been a leader in efforts to guarantee that all racial minorities receive equal protection under the law.
The NAACP was established when the direct racism of the Deep South had become a national problem, as reflected in race riots that occurred in New York City and New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1900; in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1906; in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908; and throughout mainstream America in 1910 when heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, an African American, brutally defeated James Jefferies, the “great white hope” of the era. Between 1900 and 1910, at least 505 blacks were lynched, and for the first time since 1866, no person of color was to be found in the U.S. Congress. In 1896 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, that racial segregation was not unconstitutional, a decision that accelerated a trend that had begun a generation earlier. A year before Plessy, atatime when the first wave of industrial millionaires was cresting, Booker T. Washington, the founder and principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, shot to international fame with his call for blacks to temporarily withdraw from political struggle and concentrate on cooperating with whites in economics, although the only asset blacks possessed was their physical labor.
Race relations were so poor that blacks held a conference at Atlanta University in 1893 on the theme of migration. Between 1895 and 1896, two shiploads of blacks sailed for Liberia, in what was meant to be the beginning of a mass migration of blacks back to Africa. Because of boll weevils in the cotton and the terror of Ku Klux Klansmen in white sheets, black southerners were also migrating north to Harlem and Philadelphia and Chicago. Thomas Dixon’s play The Clansman (1905), based on his 1902 novel of the same name, was a multimedia tribute to the real Klan and became a hit in the North as well as in the South. Blacks had tried to rally in defense of their rights in several organizations prior to the NAACP. One was the National Afro-American League (1890–1893), which was organized by T. Thomas Fortune, the militant editor of the New York Age. This organization failed in its efforts to convert principle into practice, however, though it reformed from 1898 to 1908 as the Afro-American Council.
The other protest association was the Niagara Movement, which was founded to counter the dire effects of Washington’s doctrine of status quo accommodation on racial issues.
Led by William E. B. Du Bois; William Monroe Trotter, the editor of the Boston Guardian; John Hope, a professor of classics and destined to become the first black president of Morehouse College in 1906; and Harry Clay Smith, the editor of the Cleveland Gazette, a group of twenty-nine likeminded African Americans held a conference in 1905 on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (thus the name, the Niagara Movement). The fact that the conference was held in Canada is symbolic of the racial strife and discord in the United States at that time, for the group could not secure a hotel site in New York. Out of this conference emerged a call for an end to racial discrimination and an extension of full civil liberties to African Americans in the United States.
The Niagara Movement had many points in its platform, including the right to manhood suffrage, freedom of speech, the abolition of caste based upon race and color, and a belief in the dignity of labor. The organization also felt that the practice of universal brotherhood should be recognized. The group took the opportunity to issue a condemnation of Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist philosophy, which he advocated in his Atlanta Compromise speech in 1895. The group held subsequent meetings in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown’s 1859 raid designed to free enslaved blacks.
The Niagara Movement was a black organization that saw its role as using the legal system to fight for civil rights. By 1910 several of the nation’s ablest black lawyers were affiliated with the organization and arguing civil rights cases. The organization was dying, however, hampered by a lack of funds. When the opportunity arose to join forces with another organization whose platform was nearly identical to its own, the Niagara Movement merged with the new group.
Spearheaded by Mary White Ovington, the NAACP was organized in New York City in 1909, in the wake of a major riot in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908. It seemed ironic to many that this riot occurred in the hometown of President Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator. During the riot many of the city’s leading white citizens organized themselves into mobs, and over a two-day period they killed two blacks and five whites, wounded scores of African Americans, and ran thousands more out of town. Forty homes were destroyed.
The Springfield Riot became the subject of countless newspaper and magazine articles. One article, written by the socialist William English Walling of the Independent, was entitled “Race War in the North.” Walling described in detail the atrocities launched against African American citizens, not only in Springfield but throughout the South. He raised the question of whether the spirit of abolitionism could be revived so that black citizens might one day be treated equally in the political and social arenas, or whether the voices of race-baiting southern segregationists, such as Senator Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman of South Carolina and Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi, would become the norm, even in the North. His final question was “Yet who realizes the seriousness of the situation, and what large and powerful body of citizens is ready to come to their aid?”
Ovington was one of the individuals who responded to Mr. Walling’s challenge. Ovington had founded the Greenpoint Settlement in Brooklyn and had spent much of her time studying the housing and employment status of blacks in New York. She felt that the spirit of abolitionism had to be revived, and she wanted to pursue the struggle for civil and political rights with the same spirit that had motivated the abolitionists. With that as a mission, she sent a letter to Walling who agreed to meet with her in his New York apartment. Along with the social worker Henry Moskowitz and John Mitchell, the mayor of New York, they met in January 1909.
Ovington, Walling, Moskowitz, and Mitchell discussed the various issues and concerns they felt were pertinent to the mistreatment of black people. They wanted to move quickly in putting together a national forum, so they set the date of February 12, 1909, Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday, on which to hold a conference on the “Negro question.” They planned to use the opportunity to organize that body of citizens that Walling alluded to in his article. The meeting was not held on that date, however, but in May 1909. From the adjournment of this initial meeting to the date of the national meeting, this group appealed to others to participate. One person they called upon was Oswald Garrison Villard, the president of the New York Evening Post Company and a grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the Liberator, a radical antislavery newspaper of the antebellum era. Through his own newspaper, the New York Evening Post, Villard publicized a call for a national meeting to consider the racism involved in repressing blacks. There were many prominent Americans who signed the call. Among them were Jane Addams, Ida Wells Barnett, William Dean Howells, the Reverend Francis J. Grimke, Rabbi Emil Hirsh, J. C. Phelps Stokes, Lincoln Steffens, Rabbi Stephen J. Wise, and the African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Alexander Walters, as well as the group from the original meeting. The signatures of all those who signed “The Call” was issued on February 12. The conference opened on May 30, 1909, and after a series of organizational meetings, the NAACP opened its doors with two offices in the Evening Post building in New York. The first national president of the NAACP was Moorfield Storey, a constitutional attorney and past president of the American Bar Association. DuBois became the director of publicity and research and the editor of the official magazine, The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, which ran to sixteen pages and was available for a dime. The first publication was issued in November 1910.
The NAACP was founded by an interracial group intent on working on behalf of all minorities, which led
to their use of the term “colored.” Many of the original white members came from socialist and progressive organizations, while much of the African American membership was pulled from participants in the Niagara Movement. The organization would work on behalf of Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Jews. Its purpose was to secure for all people the rights guaranteed under the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Its principal objective was to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of minority groups in the United States. Its efforts would be directed toward eliminating racial discrimination through established democratic processes. The early leadership and membership felt that civil rights could be secured through the enactment and enforcement of federal, state, and local laws, and by becoming a forum for informing the public about the negative effects of discrimination, segregation and racist public policies.
The newly formed organization was criticized by some in the African-American community, notably Booker T. Washington, who felt that the NAACP’s tactic of openly condemning racist policies contrasted with his policy of quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy. It was this strategy, however, that had been criticized by the Niagara Movement.
As The First Major civil rights organization, the NAACP took on the responsibility of righting the wrongs that burdened people of color through legal action. The primary means by which the NAACP operated was through the filing of lawsuits or supporting legal issues that would further its cause.
In the first few years of the organization, the NAACP was faced with the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, approving legislation (in 1913) that officially segregated the federal government. The organization launched a public protest against Wilson’s segregation policies. This was followed by the release of D. W. Griffith’s movie The Birth of a Nation (based on Dixon’s The Clansman) in 1915. The NAACP organized a nationwide protest against the bigoted and racially inflammatory silent film, which promoted negative stereotypes and glorified the Ku Klux Klan. The film’s release led to riots in major cities across the United States. Some cities, including Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, refused to allow the film to be shown. President Wilson, with his daughters, viewed the film at a White House screening. He was alleged to have commented that “it’s all so terribly true,” though one of his aides denied that he ever made the statement. As the controversy over the film continued to grow, Wilson finally issued a statement indicating that he disapproved of the “unfortunate production.” The organization also forced the hand of President Wilson on one of its major issues, lynching. Wilson issued a public statement against lynching in 1918.
As the NAACP began to gain national recognition, its membership grew from approximately 9,000 in 1917 to approximately 90,000 in 1919. There were more than 300 local branches, and it was well on its way to becoming the nation’s premier civil rights organization. The battle against lynching then began in earnest.
The anti-lynching battle was fought in both the courts and legislature. The NAACP strongly supported the Dyer Bill, which would have punished those who participated in or failed to prosecute lynch mobs. The bill was introduced by Senator Leonidas C. Dyer of Missouri in 1918. The NAACP was the major lobbyist in support of the legislation and issued a report titled “Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889– 1919.” This report resulted in substantive public debate and is credited with causing a decline in incidences of lynching, but it did not end the atrocities. The legislation was never passed by Congress.
The NAACP also challenged the military’s exclusion of African Americans from being commissioned as officers. This battle was won and, as a result, more than 600 black officers were commissioned and 700,000 registered for the draft. One of the newly commissioned officers was Charles Hamilton Houston, a 1915 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College. Houston pointed to his experience in the military, facing the hatred and disrespect shown to black officers, as the catalyst for his decision to attend law school to fight such atrocities. He earned a law degree from Harvard Law School and in 1934 he became the first full-time attorney for the NAACP.
The NAACP began its history of fighting legal battles in 1910 with the Pink Franklin case (Franklin v. State of South Carolina). Franklin, a black South Carolina sharecropper, had been put on trial for killing a white policeman. He had received an advance on his wages, but shortly afterward left his employer. A warrant was issued for his arrest under an invalid state law. Armed police went to his home at 3:00 a.m. to arrest him. When they did not state their purpose, a gun battle followed and one officer, H. E. Valentine, was killed. Franklin was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The NAACP intervened and eventually had Franklin’s sentenced commuted to life imprisonment. He was freed in 1919. The case prompted Joel Spingarn, a prominent NAACP official, and his brother Arthur to begin fighting such cases in earnest. This effort became the forerunner of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Between 1915 and 1927, the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court to rule that several laws passed by southern states concerning voting rights, education, and housing were unconstitutional. They won several major victories. In 1915, in the case of Guinn v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down the grandfather clause (a technique used to disenfranchise black voters) as a barrier to voting rights granted in the Fifteenth Amendment. The grandfather clause imposed a literacy and “understanding” test on individuals whose ancestors were not entitled to vote prior to 1866. This requirement virtually eliminated all African Americans who were freed from slavery in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment. In 1917, the Court ruled that municipal ordinances that mandated segregation were unconstitutional in Buchanan v. Warley. The case was argued before the court by Moorfield Storey, the NAACP’s first president and a constitutional attorney. The ruling in the case led whites to develop the use of restrictive covenants to accomplish the same objective. In the covenants, white property owners agreed to sell or rent to whites only. In 1923, in the case of Moore v. Dempsey the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of African Americans from juries was inconsistent with the right to a fair trial.
The NAACP began to attack “white primaries” in 1927. The white primary was an electoral mechanism used by the Democratic Party in the South as a means of excluding African-American voters. For all intents and purposes, a candidate for office was chosen in the primary election, from which blacks were excluded by racial membership rules adopted by the party, a situation that made the November general election perfunctory. In a series of cases originating in Texas, the argument was put forward that the white primary deprived African Americans of their rights under the Fifteenth Amendment. The Court had always interpreted the amendment to mean that “state action” could not deprive voters of their rights. In the first case, the state of Texas had established the white primary through statute. In Nixon v. Herndon (1927) and Nixon v. Condon (1932), therefore, the Supreme Court found state action in the establishment of the white primary. The Texas Democratic Party then limited participation in the primary to whites on its own. Thus, in Grovey v. Townsend (1935) the Supreme Court did not find state action, ruling that the party was a private entity. Nine years later, the Court reversed itself in Smith v. Allwright (1944), stating that the party was inextricably linked to the state and that the primary was a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. Thus, white primaries were finally outlawed.
The case of Hocutt v. Wilson (1933) was one of the first test cases involving segregation in higher education. Thomas Hocutt, a student at North Carolina College for Negroes, was denied admission to the University of North Carolina’s School of Pharmacy. His attorneys, Conrad Pearson and Cecil McCoy, sought the assistance of the NAACP. William Hastie directed the litigation on behalf of the NAACP. Despite the praise given Hastie and his team, the case was undermined by the North Carolina College president’s refusal to release Hocutt’s transcript.
Victories in the majority of these cases set the stage for the more in-depth litigation strategy that the NAACP would use to fight injustice. In its early efforts the organization relied on lawyers who volunteered their services. Its first full-time attorney, Charles Hamilton Houston, began to use the courts in earnest. In 1935 Houston started a legal campaign to end school segregation. He was assisted by one of his former Howard University students, Thurgood Marshall.
Houston began the higher education litigation in 1938. The first case was Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. Lloyd Gaines was denied entry to the University of Missouri Law School, and the Supreme Court ruled that Missouri must offer Gaines an equal facility within the state or admit him to the university’s law school. The state legislature attempted to build a makeshift law school, which caused Houston to renew litigation. Gaines disappeared, however, and the litigation ended. Shortly afterwards, in 1940, Houston resigned his position and Thurgood Marshall was made chief counsel of the new legal branch, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). The LDF would become a separate entity in 1957.
Marshall focused on other areas of Jim Crow before returning to education cases. In 1946 he and his team won the Morgan v. Virginia case, in which the Supreme Court banned states from having segregated facilities on buses and trains that crossed state borders. They then argued against restrictive covenants in the Shelley v. Kraemer case. The Supreme Court struck down the use of restrictive covenants in 1948. With these successes, the Marshall team then began the series of education cases for which the NAACP is most noted. Marshall decided to attack the doctrine of “separate but equal” head on as being unconstitutional.
In 1950 the Supreme Court ruled in Sweatt v. Painter that racial segregation in professional schools (in this instance, the University of Texas law school) was inherently unequal and unconstitutional. Also in 1950, the Supreme Court ruled in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents that if a student was admitted to a school, then the student was entitled to equal treatment and could not be segregated from other students, as McLaurin had been at the University of Oklahoma. This case and others before it paved the way for the NAACP landmark legal cases, which culminated in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
The organization spent years fighting racial segregation in schools in the thirteen southern states. The NAACP proved that children at “white only” schools were allotted more money and better resources than children at “black only” schools. Marshall pointed out that the South Carolina school system spent $179 per year for white students but only $43 for black children. They also used research from the psychologist Kenneth Clark’s doll experiments to demonstrate the psychological impact of segregated schools on black children. Clark studied the effects of segregation on children by using black and white dolls. When shown the dolls, children liked the white dolls better and saw the black dolls as “bad.” They also saw themselves as the white doll, but when asked which doll looked most like them, the children were upset because they had to pick the doll that they had rejected. The experiment thus demonstrated that the children had an internalized sense of inferiority. The Supreme Court accepted Marshall’s argument and ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, effectively overturning the earlier decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.Under Marshall’s leadership, the NAACP was very successful in many of its legal challenges to Jim Crow.
In the late 1950s, the NAACP saw its membership dwindle to less than 500. This decline was attributed to accusations that labor unions and black groups had been infiltrated by communists. In its battle with the Soviet Union, the United States inspired loyalty and patriotism through anticommunist rhetoric. The effort to associate organizations with communist influence wreaked havoc. Following the successful year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, the state of Alabama banned the NAACP from the state. Many states also prohibited state employees from participating in the organization, which impacted teachers in these states. Members of the organization, once discovered, were also subject to harassment and job loss.
The NAACP was also faced with new organizations emerging out of the struggle in the South. After his successful leadership in the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. became a powerful voice in the movement. In 1957 he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which became the political arm of the black church. Unlike the legal and legislative approach favored by the NAACP, the SCLC used direct action techniques to accomplish its goals. Although the NAACP was opposed to extralegal popular actions, many of its members, such as Medger Evers, the Mississippi field secretary, participated in nonviolent demonstrations such as sit-ins and marches. The organization also collaborated with the SCLC and other civil rights organization such as the National Urban League on issues important to advancing the civil rights cause.
Following Houston’s original plan, the NAACP Legal Redress Committee took the lead in the continued focus on education at the high school level. The state president in Arkansas, Mrs. Daisy Bates, organized a group of students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. A lawsuit was filed in federal district court to force the immediate integration of schools in Little Rock. Thurgood Marshall joined in the appeal. He lost the case in the Eighth U.S. Circuit and decided against pursuing further action. Bates, however, proceeded with plans to integrate. By the start of the school year, the group of students led by Bates had dwindled to nine. The “Little Rock Nine” gained national prominence when the National Guard was federalized by President Dwight Eisenhower and sent in to protect the students. In the 1958 case of Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court ruled that the Arkansas governor, Orval Faubus, could not interfere with the desegregation of Central High School. In response, the Little Rock school board closed the schools.
Following the Brown decision, some states and cities took similar action as Little Rock and chose to close their schools rather than integrate. The school system in Prince Edward County, Virginia, closed for the longest period of time, from 1959 to 1964. The NAACP managed to get legislation through the Congress in the form of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. The civil rights movement then entered the direct action phase.
The new direct action tactics were tested in Greensboro, North Carolina, when four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University staged sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter. The city of Greensboro had had an active NAACP chapter in the 1930s, and in 1943 Ella Baker, a NAACP staffer, had established a youth group in the city. Two of the four students who participated in the sit-in had been members of the youth group. During the 1950s students were further inspired by their teachers and the pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church to become more involved. The pastor had led a successful membership drive that doubled membership in the NAACP chapter. The Greensboro sit-in sparked similar action in more than sixty cities across the south.
The NAACP’s basic organizational structure has not changed since its founding. Ultimate decisions are made by the annual national convention. Between conventions, decisions are made by the sixty-four-member board of directors. The executive director, staff, and the chairman of the board are instrumental in making day-to-day decisions, and the national headquarters maintains significant control over the actions of local branches.
The organization has had eight executive directors: William Walling, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Benjamin Hooks, Benjamin Chavis, Kweisi Mfume, and Bruce Gordon. Since the appointments of the writer and diplomat James Weldon Johnson as executive secretary in 1920 and Louis T. Wright, a surgeon, as the first black board chair in 1934, neither position has been held by a white person. Walter White followed James Weldon Johnson as executive director in 1930. White was very fair-skinned and had used his color to infiltrate white groups, which allowed him to conduct significant research on lynching. He used his position in the NAACP to block the nomination of a segregationist judge, John J. Parker, from the Supreme Court.
Under White’s leadership, the NAACP saw a significant growth in its membership, boasting approximately 500,000 members by 1946. In 1941 the Washington bureau was established as the legislative advocacy and lobbying arm of the organization. The bureau was directly responsible for strategic planning and coordinating the political action and legislation program. The Washington bureau also holds an annual Legislative Mobilization, which is a forum to provide information about the NAACP’s legislative agenda. It also publishes an annual “Report Card” to publicize how members of Congress vote on significant civil rights legislation.
White was succeeded by Roy Wilkins, who became executive secretary in 1955. Wilkins led the organization through the turbulent times of pitting its moderate, integrationist goals against those of more direct action organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was under his leadership that the first significant legislative victory occurred, the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He worked with A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., and others in planning and executing the 1963 March on Washington. Wilkins also participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965 and the March Against Fear in 1966. He led the organization through the legislative victories of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Benjamin Hooks became executive director upon the retirement of Wilkins in 1977. He entered the office at a time when the civil rights movement had all but ended. Job discrimination still existed, however, as did de facto segregation, and urban poverty and crime were on the rise. The NAACP, as an organization, was experiencing internal problems, specifically tensions between the executive director and the board of directors. Although these tensions had existed almost from the beginning of the organization, they escalated to outright hostility during Hooks’s tenure. This served to weaken the organization. The NAACP was also faced with several setbacks during the 1970s. In the 1978 Regents of California v. Bakke case, the Supreme Court placed limits on affirmative action programs. This case was followed by a further eroding of the rights that had been won during the 1950s and 1960s.
The NAACP had a large membership base and had always been more financially self-reliant than other civil rights organizations. However, it experienced a severe budget crisis in the 1980s. To help stabilize its finances, the organization moved its national headquarters from New York to Baltimore, Maryland. The move was made possible with the help of more than one million dollars from the state of Maryland and the City of Baltimore, and by a half-million dollar grant from the Kresge Foundation.
Benjamin F. Chavis succeeded Hooks as executive director in 1993. However, he was ousted a year later due to several controversies. Chavis, a nationalist, attempted to take the NAACP into a new direction. He offended many liberals and supporters of the organization by reaching out to Minister Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam. This period led to additional internal problems for the organization. Kweisi Mfume, a former Maryland congressman, followed Chavis as executive director in 1996.
Under Mfume, the NAACP focused on economic development and educational programs for young people. It also continued its role in legal advocacy for civil rights issues. To return the NAACP to strong financial health, Mfume cut the national staff by a third. In 1997 he launched the Economic Reciprocity Initiative (ERI), and in 2000 he negotiated the TV Diversity Agreements with various television networks. Also in 2000, the NAACP retired much of its debt, and the organization operated with a budget surplus for the first time in many years. The NAACP was also successful in massive voter registration drives that year, and it witnessed the largest black voter turnout rate in twenty years. Mfume led the organization in working through its political differences with major Latino civil rights organizations, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza.
In 2003 the United Nations designated the NAACP as a nongovernmental organization (NGO). The NGO designation meant that the organization could advise and consult with foreign governments and the UN Secretariat on issues involving human rights. Mfume developed an action agenda that included an emphasis on civil rights, political empowerment, educational excellence, economic development and health and youth outreach. The board, under the leadership of Julian Bond, began to streamline and strengthen the governing procedures of the organization. The board also began to revise and update its constitution and bylaws for the first time since its inception in 1909. And, with Mfume’s leadership, the NAACP developed a five-year strategic plan.
Bruce Gordon, a retired Verizon executive, followed Mfume as executive director in 2004. His tenure was short lived, however. Citing differences with the board of directors, he resigned in March 2007, just nineteen months after taking the helm. Gordon was replaced by Dennis Courtland Hayes as interim president and CEO. Hayes previously served as the NAACP’s general counsel in charge of the historic legal program.
The most significant change in the NAACP over the years has been the decline in the interracialism that was present at the founding of the organization and lasted well into the 1960s. Until that time, whites held leadership roles and were part of the staff. This change was largely a function of the 1960s Black Power ideology and its emphasis on racial solidarity and organization. Black Power advocates challenged the NAACP’s purpose and tactics. With its traditional approach, the NAACP found itself attracting fewer members, as many African Americans became sympathetic to the more militant and separatist philosophies of the Black Power movement. However, the organization remained steadfast in its mission, and under the leadership of Mfume membership steadily increased.
The NAACP maintains its strategy of lobbying and litigation. In the post-civil rights era, the organization supported extension of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and amendments to the Fair Housing Act. It has also lobbied against the confirmation of conservative judges to the federal bench. Although its strategy has remained virtually unchanged, the NAACP has adopted some new approaches through negotiating what is called “Fair Share” agreements. These agreements are made with both public- and private-sector organizations to promote the hiring of black workers and contracts with black businesses. The organization has also begun to focus on nontraditional civil rights issue such as alcohol and substance abuse, teenage pregnancies, black-on-black crime, and other issues impacting the under-class. It continues to engage in voter registration campaigns, but being nonpartisan inhibits the mobilization of black voters for particular candidates. As the NAACP approaches its centennial in 2009, it continues to be the nation’s premier civil rights organization, with more than 500,000 members in 1,700 chapters and 450 college and youth chapters.
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice. Available from http://www.charleshamiltonhouston.org.
Lawson, Steven F. 1991. Running for Freedom: Civil Rights and Black Politics in America since 1941. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Library of Congress. “With an Even Hand”: Brown v Board at Fifty. Available from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-segregation.html.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Internet home page. Available from http://www.naacp.org.
Ovington, Mary White. 1914. “How the NAACP Began.” Available from http://www.naacp.org/about/history/howbegan.
Smith, Robert. 1996. We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Toonari Corporation. Black American History: NAACP. Available from http://www.africanaonline.com.
Williams, Juan. 1987. Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965. New York: Viking Penguin.
Mamie E. Locke
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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the most influential and longest-lasting African American civil rights associations, was formed in 1909. A group of about sixty activists, most of them white, established the group. Among the founders, however, were some of the most famous African American reformers in history, including American journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931) and writer and editor W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963). By 1917, the NAACP had nine thousand members, a number that grew to ninety thousand by 1919.
The organization promoted equality for African Americans and quickly established itself as a resource for legal aid against discrimination. It played a major role in the national antilynching (unlawful hanging by rope until death) campaign waged throughout the early decades of the twentieth century. By pressuring various presidents and lawmakers, the
NAACP also was a key factor in the passage of antidiscriminatory laws throughout the 1900s. Future U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993) served as the group's chief counsel from 1938 to 1961.
In 1955, NAACP member Rosa Parks (1913–2005) unknowingly started the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated (racially separated) bus in Montgomery, Alabama . (See Montgomery Bus Boycott .) She was arrested for breaking a local ordinance, but her act of civil disobedience (refusal to obey rules or laws, usually in a nonviolent manner) sparked a boycott of the city buses, and what followed was a decades-long struggle for civil rights. The NAACP was one of several organizations leading the way.
By the end of the twentieth century, the NAACP focused its efforts on educational programs for youth as well as development of better economic conditions for African Americans. Its membership going into the twenty-first century was nearly five hundred thousand.
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Annie B. Rose Educational Scholarships (Undergraduate/Scholarship)
Purpose: To provide financial aid for those who have successfully completed high school and are planning to continue their education in an institution of higher learning. Focus: General studies. Qualif.: Applicant must be a resident of the City of Alexandria; must have a minimum “C” grade point average (2.5 or better); be a graduating senior or current college enrolled; must have applied to and received official notice of acceptance by an accredited school; must be willing to receive the scholarship award through the business office of his/her respective institution; and willing to uphold the goals and objectives of the NAACP. Criteria: Applicants will be evaluated based on academic achievement.
Funds Avail.: $1,000. Number Awarded: 3. To Apply: Applicants must submit an official NAACP Scholarship Application; two letters of recommendation; official school transcript; and a 200-300 words personal essay. Deadline: May 1.
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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Since its organization in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been the premier civil rights organization in the United States. It has been in the forefront of numerous successful campaigns on behalf of African-American rights, from the effort to suppress lynching to the long struggle to overturn legal segregation and the still-ongoing effort to secure the implementation of racial justice. The growth and evolution of the NAACP mirrors the growth of African-American political power and the vigorous debates this process engendered.
Founding and Early Days
The NAACP owes its origins to the coalescence of two political movements of the early twentieth century. The early years of the century saw the emergence of a group of black intellectuals opposed to the accommodationism of Booker T. Washington. While William Monroe Trotter was the first important figure to break with Washington, he was temperamentally unsuited to the uniting of political forces, and it was W. E. B. Du Bois who soon came to be the most prominent black figure among the anti-Bookerites, as Washington's opponents were called. At the same time there was a revival of political agitation by a small group of white "neo-abolitionists," many of them descended from those who had led the antebellum fight against slavery and who were increasingly distressed by the deterioration in the legal rights and social status of African Americans.
The Niagara Movement, formed by Du Bois, Trotter, and twenty-eight other African-American men at a conference on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in August 1905, was the organized expression of anti-Bookerite sentiment. The movement was forthright in its opposition to Washingtonian accommodationism and in its commitment to civil equality. At a 1906 meeting of the organization at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown's Raid, the organization declared:
We shall not be satisfied with less than full manhood rights … We claim for ourselves every right that belongs to a free-born American — political, civil, and social — and until we get these rights, we shall never cease to protest and assail the ears of America with the story of its shameful deeds toward us.
Despite its oratory, the Niagara Movement was loosely organized and poorly funded and was largely ineffective as a national civil rights organization during its brief history. Weakened by internal controversy and hounded by members of Washington's extensive and effective network in the black community (the "Tuskegee Machine"), the Niagara Movement's existence was tentative and brief. After its dissolution, many of its active members joined the NAACP.
The catalyst for the founding of the NAACP was a violent race riot in 1908 in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's hometown. William English Walling (1877–1936), a white socialist and labor activist, graphically described the violence he had witnessed in an article in The Independent. Walling invoked the spirit of Lincoln and the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy in a call for citizens to come to the assistance of blacks and to fight for racial equality.
Walling's article was read by Mary White Ovington (1865–1951), a white journalist and social worker from a well-to-do abolitionist family who worked and lived in a black tenement in New York, doing research for her landmark sociological work Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York (1911). She responded to his plea and invited Dr. Henry Moskowitz (1879-1936), a labor reformer and social worker among New York immigrants, to join her in meeting with Walling in his New York apartment to discuss the "Negro Question." The three were the principal founders of the NAACP. Two other members of the core group were Charles Edward Russell (1860-1941), another socialist whose father had been the abolitionist editor of a small newspaper in Iowa, and Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949), grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and publisher of the liberal New York Evening Post journal and later the Nation.
Ovington also invited two prominent black New York clergymen, Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a former president of the National Afro-American Council, and the Rev. William Henry Brooks, minister of Mark's Methodist Episcopal Church, to join the continuing discussions. The expanded group agreed to issue a call on February 12, 1909, for a conference in New York.
Written by Villard, the call reflected the Niagara Movement's platform and emphasized protection of the civil and political rights of African Americans guaranteed under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Of the sixty people signing the call, seven were black: Professor William L. Bulkley, a New York school principal; Du Bois; the Rev. Francis J. Grimké of Washington, D.C.; Mary Church Terrell of Washington, D.C.; Dr. J. Milton Waldron of Washington, D.C.; Bishop Walters; and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
The founders' overriding concern was guaranteeing true equality to all citizens. They demanded all rights "which underlie our American institutions and are guaranteed by our Constitution"—legal, educational, and political—as well as an end to all forms of segregation and intimidation. The organization was founded as a small elite group that would rely primarily on agitation and legal battles rather than mass action against racial discrimination.
As a result of the call, the National Negro Conference met at the Charity Organization Hall in New York City on May 31 and June 1, 1909. The conference created the National Negro Committee (also known as the Committee of Forty on Permanent Organization and initially known as the National Committee for the Advancement of the Negro) to develop plans for an effective organization. The committee's plans were implemented a year later at a second meeting in New York, when the organization's permanent name was adopted. The organization chose to include the phrase "colored people" in its title to emphasize the broad and anti-imperialist concerns of its founders, and not to limit the scope of the organization to the United States. The NAACP's structure and mission inspired the formation of several other civil rights groups, such as South Africa's African National Congress, formed in 1912.
The NAACP's organizers created a formal institutional structure headed by an executive committee composed largely of members of the Committee of Forty. While Du Bois and a handful of other black men, largely moderates, were included, black women—notably Ida B. Wells-Barnett—were excluded from the committee. Kathryn Johnson served as field secretary from 1910 through 1916 (on a volunteer basis for the first four years), becoming the first of many black women to serve in that position; but black women were not offered leadership roles in the NAACP for several decades. Moorfield Storey (1845–1929), a former secretary to antislavery senator Charles Sumner, and one of the country's foremost constitutional lawyers, was named the organization's president. In addition to Storey and Du Bois, the only black and only salaried staffer, its first officers were Walling, chairman; John E. Milholland, treasurer; Villard, assistant treasurer; and Ovington, secretary. In addition to their official positions, Villard and Ovington were the principal organizers, providing direction and ideas. Francis Blascoer served as national secretary (becoming the second salaried staffer) from February 1910 to March 1911, when Ovington resumed the position pro bono for a year. May Childs Nerney took over the position in 1912.
Soon after the 1910 conference, the NAACP established an office at 20 Vesey St. in New York City (it moved to its longtime home of 70 Fifth Ave. a few years later). In its first year, it launched programs to increase job opportunities for blacks, and to obtain greater protection for them in the South by crusading against lynching and other forms of violence.
The organization's most important act that year was hiring Du Bois as director of publications and research. Du Bois's visionary ideas and militant program were his primary contributions to the NAACP. His hiring signaled the final demise of the Niagara Movement; while Du Bois brought its central vision to the new organization, the NAACP had better funding and a much more well-defined structure and program than the Niagara Movement.
In November 1910, Du Bois launched The Crisis as the NAACP's official organ. The Crisis soon became the principal philosophical instrument of the black freedom struggle. From an initial publication of 1,000 copies in November 1910, the magazine's circulation increased to 100,000 a month in 1918. In its pages, Du Bois exposed and protested the scourge of racial oppression in order to educate both his black and white audiences on the nature of the struggle and to instill pride in his people. The Crisis was not only known for political articles; in its pages Du Bois introduced works by African-American writers, poets, and artists.
Following the report of a Committee on Program headed by Villard, the NAACP was incorporated in New York on June 20, 1911. The organizers invested overall control in a board of directors, which replaced the executive committee. Moorfield Storey remained as president, while Villard succeeded Walling as chairman of the board of directors. The chairman of the board, rather than the president, was designated the most powerful officer in the organization, because Storey had a highly successful practice in Boston and was unable to devote much attention to the NAACP.
The executive committee centralized control of the organization in a national body, to which memberships belonged; it decentralized other significant aspects of the organization's work through local groups called vigilance committees, which became its branches. To ensure that the movement spread as quickly as possible, the committee authorized mass meetings in Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
The first local NAACP branch was organized in New York in January 1911. Joel E. Spingarn, former chair of the department of comparative literature at Columbia University, became the branch's first president. His brother Arthur, a lawyer, also became active in the branch. The following year, branches were created in Boston, Baltimore, Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Quincy, Illinois. In 1913, other branch offices were created in Chicago, Kansas City, Tacoma, Washington, and Washington, D.C. Membership in the organization was contingent upon acceptance of NAACP philosophy and programs.
While the local branches were largely staffed by African Americans, the national NAACP was a largely white group during its early days. Whites had the financial resources to devote themselves to NAACP work; throughout the NAACP's early days, all of the board members contributed a considerable amount of time to the organization. Arthur Spingarn, for example, estimated that he devoted "half and probably more" of his time to the NAACP. Also, whites had the education, the administrative experience, and the access to money that were required to build the organization. For example, Villard initially provided office space for the NAACP in his New York Post building. He also gave his personal funds to save the infant organization from imminent collapse. Joel Spingarn paid for his own travel from city to city, soliciting memberships and funds during what were called the New Abolition tours. While he did not make sizable personal contributions to the organization until 1919, Spingarn's knowledge of the management of stocks and bonds also enabled him to direct the organization's financial policies. Furthermore, he donated funds to establish the annual Spingarn Medal, first awarded in 1915, which rapidly became the most prestigious African-American award.
Despite essential contributions of white activists, blacks were increasingly uneasy about white control of an organization that was meant for African Americans. Those differences had surfaced at the founding conference, when Ida B. Wells-Barnett openly expressed concern over the leading roles that whites were playing in the movement. She and William Monroe Trotter shied away from involvement in the new organization because of its domination by whites. Black resentment about white control was manifested in the frequent clashes between Du Bois and Villard, two prickly and irreconcilable personalities.
Du Bois especially resented the intrusion of whites into the editorial affairs of The Crisis, which he maintained as an independent, self-supporting magazine. While it remained part of the NAACP, it had its own staff of eight to ten people (led by business manager Augustus Dill, one of the NAACP's few black staff members). Many whites, including Villard, felt that The Crisis did not report NAACP news sufficiently. They maintained that Du Bois's often acerbic denunciations of whites were inflammatory and said his editorial style was propagandistic and unbalanced, since he refused to cover negative topics, such as black crime.
In 1914, following clashes with Du Bois, Villard resigned as chairman of the board, and Joel Spingarn succeeded him. Even after Villard's departure, the issue of white control continued, and it caused considerable conflict between Du Bois and Spingarn, his long-time friend. Though, as Du Bois admitted, his haughty personality contributed to the problem, he also interpreted his role within a racial context and felt that he could not accept even the appearance of inferiority or subservience to whites without betraying the race ideals for which he stood. Spingarn felt strongly that Du Bois devoted too much time to lecturing and writing at the expense of association work, but he and Ovington sided with Du Bois in board matters. After Ovington, a long-time ally and supporter, became NAACP chair in 1919, she too became a severe critic of Du Bois's refusal to follow board policy, though she accepted his independence in management of The Crisis.
The problem of white domination led to frank discussion about whether whites should continue in top-level positions in the NAACP. While Du Bois challenged any sign of black subordination, he feared that whites would refuse to aid a black-dominated organization and that it would compromise the NAACP's integrationist program. Spingarn and Ovington both acknowledged the difficulties inherent in white leadership, but felt it was a necessary evil until blacks had sufficient resources to run organizations without assistance.
In 1916 Mae Nerney resigned her post as secretary. She recommended that the board choose a black person to succeed her, but the board chose a white man, Roy Nash. It could not, however, escape the pressure to hire another black executive, so it chose James Weldon Johnson, a writer for the New York Age and a highly respected man of letters, as field secretary later that year.
Several events in the NAACP's first years combined to define and unite the fledgling organization. The first was the NAACP's ten-year protest campaign for the withdrawal of the film The Birth of a Nation, beginning in 1915. The film, directed by D. W. Griffith, featured racist portrayals of blacks. The NAACP charged that the film "assassinated" the character of black Americans and undermined the very basis of the struggle for racial equality. The organization arranged pickets of movie theaters and lobbied local governments to ban showings of the film. The NAACP branches succeeded in leading thousands of blacks in protests and forced the withdrawal of the film from several cities and states. The struggle provided important evidence that African Americans would display opposition to racist images and actions.
Upon the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915, the NAACP reached another turning point. With the end of effective opposition by those who preferred accommodation with the South's Jim Crow policies, The Crisis, under Du Bois's leadership, became the leading principal instrument of black opinion. As leadership passed from Washington to the militant "race men" of the North, the NAACP fully established itself as the primary black organization. Consolidating the NAACP's power, in 1916 Du Bois initiated a conference of black leaders, including Washington's men, and their friends. This was the first Amenia conference, which was held at Joel Spingarn's Troutbeck estate at Amenia, north of New York City. The fifty or so participants adopted resolutions that were aimed at breaching the division between the Washington group and the NAACP. The conference participants endorsed all forms of education for African Americans—not just the type of industrial schooling that Washington had advocated; recognized complete political freedom as essential for the development of blacks; agreed that organization and a practical working understanding among race leaders was necessary for development; urged that old controversies, suspicions, and factional alignments be eliminated; and suggested that there was a special need for understanding between leaders in the South and in the North. Du Bois reiterated the African-American demand for full equality and political power.
World War I and related events combined to set the NAACP on its primary mission, a two-pronged legal and political course against racial violence. During the war, Du Bois instituted a controversial policy of black support for American military efforts, with the goal of greater recognition for civil rights afterward. However, the migration of southern blacks to northern urban areas during and after the war led to racial tension, and the clash between increasingly assertive blacks, and whites who refused to countenance changes in the racial status quo, led to violent riots, particularly during the postwar Red Summer of 1919.
Security of person was the most pressing problem that blacks faced, since the taking of a person's life by mob action violated the most basic constitutional right. At first, the NAACP's primary strategy against lynching involved a publicity campaign backed by pamphlets, in-depth studies, and other educational activities to mobilize public support for ending the crime. From its earliest years, the NAACP devoted most of its resources to seeking an end to lynchings and other forms of mob violence; the organization's protest campaign after a lynching in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 1911 resulted in its first substantial publicity. In 1917 it led the celebrated silent protest parade of 15,000 people through Harlem with muffled drums to protest the violent riots that year against blacks in East St. Louis, Illinois, and discrimination in general.
The strengthening of the branch structure heightened NAACP influence. As field secretary, James Weldon Johnson was charged with organizing branches, which carried out most of the organization's protest activity. Johnson's most immediate challenge was to increase significantly the number of NAACP branches in the South, a mission that exposed him to the dangers of Jim Crow in the region. Johnson began by organizing a branch in Richmond, Virginia, in 1917. Initially, his progress was slow, but by the end of 1919, the NAACP had 310 branches, including 31 in the South. The Atlanta branch, founded in late 1916, had become one of the organization's strongest, with a membership of more than 1,000. The NAACP's total membership jumped from 9,282 in 1917 to 91,203 in 1919.
In 1921 Johnson became NAACP secretary, establishing the permanent line of blacks to hold the position. Johnson's assumption of this power reflected the clearer administrative lines that were developing within the NAACP, and signaled the rising influence of paid African-American staff members within the organization. Johnson's predecessor, John Shillady, hired in 1918, had served as the first professional secretary. Shillady assumed responsibility for fund-raising, coordinating the branches, and developing the strategy for implementing the organization's programs. Johnson worked even harder to further the organization's goals. The NAACP strengthened its executive staff in 1922 when it hired Herbert J. Seligman as its first full-time director of publicity. Johnson was succeeded as field secretary by Dr. William A. Pickens, who later served as director of branches until 1942.
The "New Negro" Era
Despite its promising beginnings, by 1919 it was clear that the NAACP's reliance on agitation and education had proved largely ineffective against racial violence. The most promising avenue of redress was by political challenge. Walter White, a young insurance salesman from Atlanta whom Johnson met during an organizing trip, and who joined the national staff in 1918, was named assistant secretary with responsibility for investigating lynchings. White's effectiveness with this mission—in part because as a very light-skinned African American he could blend into white mobs—won him national respect.
In 1919, the NAACP published its report Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918. The book provided documentation for the campaign against the crime that White was leading. A resurgence of violence helped the NAACP to get the Republican party during the 1920 campaign to urge Congress "to consider the most effective means to end lynching." Two years later, through Johnson's extraordinary effort, the House passed an antilynching bill introduced by Congressman L. C. Dyer of Missouri, but Southerners in the Senate killed the Dyer Bill with a filibuster.
Even though Congress failed to pass antilynching legislation during the Coolidge and Hoover administrations, the Republican party's repeated pledge in 1924 to seek such a law was a strong indication that the NAACP's political emphasis held considerable promise. During the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt the NAACP continued pressing for the passage of antilynching laws in Congress. Two more bills were introduced in this period, but one died in the House of Representatives and the other in the Senate. Congress never passed an antilynching law, but the NAACP eventually helped end the crime through publicity.
Led by Du Bois, the NAACP continued to extend its influence abroad. In 1919, with NAACP support, Du Bois organized the first of a series of Pan-African Congresses in Paris, as the most effective means for demanding the removal of colonial shackles in Africa, India, the West Indies, and all other such territories. The following year, the NAACP expanded its international program by sending Johnson to Haiti to investigate the U.S. occupation of the country. After spending six weeks there, Johnson conducted an extensive campaign in the United States to get both the president and Congress to take action to protect the sovereignty of Haiti and the rights of its citizens. Although his effort was not immediately fruitful, Johnson brought to national attention the occupation and the discriminatory treatment of persons of African descent by American troops in Haiti.
Despite its preeminent position in the black community, the NAACP was not without its critics during the 1920s. Proponents of radical protest, such as A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen of the journal The Messenger criticized the NAACP for excessive emphasis on legalism, claiming the organization should support self-defense efforts against racial violence. Furthermore, the NAACP engaged in a strong rivalry with Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. Garvey scorned the NAACP's interracial, integrationist philosophy and its predominantly light-skinned, middle-class black leadership. The NAACP, meanwhile, opposed Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement as chauvinist and overly visionary and because it rejected integration and espoused separatism. Du Bois called Garvey "the most dangerous man in America," while Robert Bagnall, the NAACP's director of branches, said that Garvey was "insane" and collaborated with United States government officials in their successful attempt to deport Garvey.
Under James Weldon Johnson's leadership, the NAACP became a recognized power in the United States during the 1920s. In 1930 Johnson, who had taken a year's leave of absence to devote his time to creative writing, retired from the NAACP, and Walter White was appointed secretary. White, in turn, hired Roy Wilkins, a former managing editor of the Kansas City Call, as his assistant.
The NAACP began the 1930s with 325 branches, which were located in every state of the Union except Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, and North Dakota. The association's branch work was now directed by two field secretaries, Dr. William Pickens and Daisy E. Lampkin. The branches served as information bureaus for the national office and stimulated the cultural life of African Americans. In addition to the field staff, the national officers visited them regularly, led conferences, did intense organizational work, and solicited financial support as well as regular and life memberships. The broad organizational independence of the branches enabled them to put together actions, such as mass demonstrations, that differed strongly from national office policy.
The NAACP's influence was demonstrated by Walter White's successful campaign in 1930 to defeat President Herbert Hoover's nomination of Judge John J. Parker to the U.S. Supreme Court. Parker was from North Carolina and had previously, as a gubernatorial candidate, spoken against black suffrage. While he had opposition from labor unions and other groups, the NAACP was effective in forming coalitions and lobbying senators against Parker's confirmation. Parker's defeat, after a close vote, was a dramatic accomplishment for the NAACP, and widespread denunciation of the organization by white Southerners after the battle reinforced its stature as a formidable political force.
The NAACP Legal Campaign
Well before it had launched its political efforts, the NAACP had begun using the courts to improve the status of blacks. The scarcity of good black lawyers during the organization's early years made it crucial for whites to dedicate their services to the organization. The NAACP engaged lawyers to conduct its legal work as the need arose and when funds permitted. Because of this inability to fund a legal program, Arthur Spingarn and his law partner Charles H. Studin, along with Moorfield Storey, volunteered their legal services. Arthur Spingarn assumed leadership of this program in 1929.
The NAACP's first significant court action was the legal struggle to save the life of Pink Franklin, an illiterate farmhand in South Carolina, which led the NAACP to establish a legal redress department in 1910. Franklin had been sentenced to death for killing a law officer attempting to arrest him for leaving his employer after he had received advances on his wages. This case was noteworthy because it forced the U.S. Supreme Court, which for some time had been evading all questions relating to the citizenship rights of African Americans, to rule on whether serfdom could be legally established in the country. While the Court affirmed the decision of the lower courts, the NAACP got the South Carolina governor to commute Franklin's sentence to life imprisonment.
An important victory came in 1915, when Storey wrote an amicus curiae brief of the NAACP in Guinn v. United States, challenging the constitutionality of the Oklahoma "grandfather clause." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the clause violated the Fifteenth Amendment, giving the NAACP its first legal victory and incentive to seek further redress of civil rights cases.
Through the early part of the century, the NAACP won other significant cases. In 1917 the NAACP struck a strong, though not final, blow against residential segregation when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Buchanan v. Warley that the Louisville, Kentucky, residential segregation ordinance was unconstitutional. The case resulted in the striking down of mandatory housing segregation in Norfolk, Baltimore, St. Louis, and other cities. In 1919, the NAACP conducted an investigation of the convictions of twelve black Elaine, Arkansas, farmers arrested during a riot in 1919 and sentenced to death, and took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court threw out the convictions in Moore v. Dempsey (1923), ruling that the trial had been dominated by a mob atmosphere. In 1935, in the Court's ruling in Hollins v. Oklahoma, the NAACP won the reversal of two death penalty convictions due to racial discrimination in jury selection.
Aside from opposition to lynching, the NAACP's primary fight in the 1920s continued to be against racial injustices in the courts, and it handled hundreds of civil rights cases. It considered its task of educating the public, both white and black, about racial wrongs to be an even greater challenge than resolving specific problems. Thus, it had two criteria for accepting a case: first, whether it involved discrimination and injustice based on race or color; second, whether it would establish a precedent for protecting the rights of African Americans as a group. The case of Dr. Ossian Sweet of Detroit met those criteria. In 1925, Sweet moved his family into a house he had purchased in a middle-class white neighborhood. The house was surrounded by a white mob. Sweet shot at the mob in self-defense, and killed one of its members. The NAACP hired Clarence Darrow, the greatest trial lawyer of the day, and he successfully defended Sweet.
One notable area of NAACP interest was the "White Primary," which effectively disfranchised southern blacks. In 1927, the Supreme Court declared in a unanimous decision in Nixon v. Herndon that a Texas state primary law that excluded blacks from voting was unconstitutional. Soon afterward, a special session of the Texas legislature passed a new statute authorizing the Democratic state committee to make its own decisions on the eligibility of voters in party primaries. The NAACP appealed, and in 1932 the Supreme Court ruled in Nixon v. Condon that the Fourteenth Amendment forbade such distinctions. (Despite NAACP efforts, however, in 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Grovey v. Townshend that a party was a private body and could exclude blacks from primary elections; the white primary was finally struck down in 1944.)
Such victories led the NAACP to declare after 1932 that "for the present, the avenue of affirmation and defense of the Negro's fundamental rights in America lies through the courts." Those, of course, were the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts, which the NAACP regarded as bulwarks in this struggle, because at that level "the atmosphere of sectional prejudice is notably absent." Its legal victories, it concluded, were "clear-cut" and "matters of prominent record."
In 1929, Arthur Spingarn organized the NAACP legal committee, and served as its chair until 1939, when he succeeded his deceased brother Joel as president of the NAACP. The first members of the legal committee included the distinguished labor lawyer Clarence Darrow, Harvard law professor and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter; liberal Michigan governor and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Frank Murphy; and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Arthur Garfield Hays.
Darrow and Hays represented the NAACP in the Sweet case, as well as the Scottsboro case, which involved nine young black men who were convicted of raping two white women on a train passing through Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931. Eight of the Scottsboro defendants were sentenced to death. The NAACP, which lacked a regular legal department, was unable to move quickly into action, and the International Labor Defense, closely allied with the Communist Party, took control of the case. In 1933 the NAACP, spurred by black community criticism of its inaction on the famous case, formed the Scottsboro Defense Committee in an uneasy alliance with the International Labor Defense. After a series of protracted legal battles, the defendants' lives were saved. (The ILD abandoned the case after it lost publicity value. On November 29, 1976, the NAACP finally won freedom for Clarence Norris, the last of the Scottsboro nine, when the Alabama Board for Pardons and Paroles pardoned him.)
The NAACP in the Depression
The frustrations of the Scottsboro case were the beginning of a contentious and difficult period for the NAACP. The collapse of the national economy in 1929 brought disproportionate hardship to African Americans. Many blacks hailed the New Deal's programs for economic recovery in the hope that minimum wage, maximum working hours, and other such reforms would benefit blacks. However, early New Deal programs were unable to alter the low social and economic status of the African-American masses; in some cases these worsened their situation. Bitterly disappointed, many intellectuals were attracted by Marxism and other radical philosophies. The communist party and allied groups such as the League of Struggle for Negro Rights presented themselves in black areas as rivals to the NAACP, whose reformist stance they sought to discredit as inadequate for addressing the economic injustice African Americans were suffering.
Similarly, the Great Depression brought sharp criticisms of the NAACP by a generation of younger intellectuals, and pressure on the organization to make radical shifts in its strategies and programs to meet the needs of impoverished blacks. One of the severest critics was Ralph Bunche, a political scientist at Howard University. Bunche maintained that the NAACP's program of political and civil liberties was doomed to failure unless there was an improvement in the economic condition of the black masses. Bunche was also uncomfortable with having whites in policy-making positions in the NAACP, maintaining that its interracial structure was "an undoubted source of organizational weakness." He felt that the "white sympathizers were in the main either cautious liberals or mawkish, missionary-minded sentimentalists on the race question."
Another important critic was Dr. Abram L. Harris, a Howard University economics professor and member of the NAACP board of directors. Harris insisted that the NAACP launch a more vigorous attack on fundamental economic problems and that the masses of African Americans organized in the local branches play a more significant role in the organization's work. He and Bunche advocated efforts by the NAACP to reach out to white labor unions and secure greater union affiliation for black workers.
The organization did respond to economic discrimination during the early 1930s. For example, in 1931, Helen Boardman, a white NAACP investigator, reported that the 30,000 blacks on the War Department's Mississippi Flood Control project were receiving 10 cents an hour for an 84-hour week. In 1933, Roy Wilkins and George S. Schuyler, a former Socialist and writer for the Messenger, disguised themselves as laborers in order to investigate the deplorable, peonage-like conditions under which blacks on the project were working. White officials discovered their identities, and both men barely escaped with their lives. The Wilkins and Schuyler investigations enabled the NAACP to get the Secretary of War to quadruple the hourly pay for unskilled laborers and shorten their work week to thirty hours.
Nevertheless, while the NAACP leaders did not share Bunche's view of the futility of legal efforts, some staffers, notably Du Bois, felt that the NAACP lacked a clear sense of direction. The criticisms convinced younger staffers such as Wilkins that "among the liberals and radicals, both Negro and white, the impression prevails that the Association is weak because it has no economic program and no economic philosophy."
In the face of the criticisms, in August 1933 the NAACP held a Second Amenia Conference. This time whites were barred from the assemblage on Joel Spingarn's estate. Among the delegates were several young leaders who would later achieve distinction. Notable were Bunche and Harris; sociologists E. Franklin Frazier and Ira De A. Reid; attorney Louis Redding; Sterling A. Brown, a literary critic and poet; and Juanita Jackson, who with her mother Lillie Mae Jackson in 1935 would begin leading the NAACP struggle to desegregate their home state of Maryland. The major emphasis at the conference was on economics and the need for power among blacks that could make the government more responsive to the demands of their community. The participants were upset by the national NAACP's reluctance to launch a mass movement, in contrast to the efforts of branches such as Baltimore.
There was general agreement on the need for the NAACP to develop the type of comprehensive economic program that the Amenia Conference delegates demanded. Not everyone within the organization, however, subscribed to the young activists' focus on race pride; neither did they initially support their call for greater solidarity between the black and white working class. Walter White, for one, had grave reservations about moving toward a more "mass-oriented" program and felt that many of his colleagues were being "stampeded by temporary or emotional situations and conditions." Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the conference and significant prodding by Joel Spingarn, the NAACP created a Committee on Future Plan and Program in 1935 to consider the concerns raised by the Amenia Conference. The members of the committee were Harris, chairman; Rachel Davis Du Bois; Dr. Louis T. Wright; James Weldon Johnson; Sterling Brown; and Mary White Ovington, who had resigned from the board in 1931 following disagreements with White. The committee reinforced the priority of economic concerns and urged solidarity between black and white workers. It forced the organization to declare that its interests were "inextricably intertwined with those of white workers." The importance of this emphasis was realized with the subsequent creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) which, unlike the American Federation of Labor (AFL), opened its ranks to black workers, and which was closely allied with the NAACP.
White made some modifications in the NAACP's programs to accommodate the economic concerns and activism of the young militants in the late 1930s. For example, the NAACP was one of the twenty-four civil rights and religious organizations supporting the Joint Committee on National Recovery, a Washington-based economic lobbying and information group founded by Robert C. Weaver and John P. Davis in 1935. Also, the NAACP negotiated with leaders of the CIO on behalf of black automobile workers in Detroit. However, White redoubled the organization's efforts in its traditional areas of education, agitation, and court litigation. More than ever, court action defined the NAACP's identity, while direct action was left to small groups such as the National Negro Congress and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded in 1942.
As disquieting as most of the criticisms from young radicals were for White, none created anything as near a schism as those offered by Du Bois. He too had grown impatient with the pace of the NAACP's achievements. Openly challenging White and the NAACP, he shifted from his long-held position of urging integration, because that was not achieving racial equality fast enough, and promoted independent black economic development. (One possible factor in Du Bois's 180-degree shift in position from emphasis on integration to tactical segregation was his deep, personal differences with White). Du Bois's stand made his departure from The Crisis and the NAACP board inevitable, and he resigned in 1934. Wilkins, in addition to being in charge of the organization's administration, succeeded him as editor of The Crisis.
Another significant development was the revamping of the NAACP hierarchy. More and more, the paid staff exercised control of the organization. In effect, White made the executive secretary the association's chief executive officer as well as its chief spokesperson. White was able to effect such changes because the bulk of the organization's strength and finances now came from its vastly expanded branch structure. Despite the severe hardships of the Depression, the branches in 1936 contributed $26,288 toward the total income of $47,724. Most of the remaining income came from contributions, as well as a life membership program that was created in 1927. This pattern of support had been established from around 1920. Between that year and 1931, the NAACP raised $545,407 in general funds, of which $374,896 came from the branches.
The board, as a result, underwent a shift in direction. In 1934, Dr. Louis T. Wright, a physician and Fellow in the American College of Surgeons, was elected as the first in the permanent line of blacks to be chair of the NAACP board. As Charles Hamilton Houston, who was chair of the board revision committee explained, among other things, the changes made the board more representative of the organization's membership. Previously, he said, board meetings were "in substance executive committee meetings." He added, "I favor calling a spade by its name. The board meetings would deal with policies rather than details." While whites remained on the board in diminishing numbers, by mid-1936 the NAACP's organizational revolution was so stark that the NAACP no longer depended on whites for administrative expertise or for the bulk of its fiscal support. Mary White Ovington complained that the board of directors had adopted "the rubber stamp attitude" in sanctioning the staff's actions. She was especially unhappy with Walter White, whom she lamented was virtually "the dictator" of the organization. She complained that the board's discussions had little effect on its actual programs and policies.
Throughout the late 1930s, much of the NAACP's activism was organized by individual branches. For example, in Baltimore, Boston, and elsewhere, NAACP Youth Council leaders formed "don't-buy-where-you-can't-work" boycotts and pickets to protest job discrimination in stores located in black communities. In New Orleans, the NAACP paid residents' poll taxes to fight voting restrictions. In Kansas City, an NAACP-led protest campaign desegregated municipal golf courses. In New York, NAACP officials joined a committee to improve conditions in Harlem after a riot broke out in 1935.
The national NAACP also engaged in several campaigns during the 1930s, lobbying Congress for antilynching legislation and struggling against discrimination in New Deal programs. One important NAACP action was its protest against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The organization collected donations for war relief, sent official protests to the League of Nations and U.S. State Department, and lobbied against pro-Italian amendments in the 1935 Neutrality Act. Another important struggle dealt with media stereotypes. NAACP representatives met with newspaper editors to persuade them to offer positive coverage of African Americans and to cease the practice of discussing the race of alleged criminals. The NAACP also launched a campaign to end stereotypes in Hollywood films and radio programs, notably the popular radio series Amos 'n' Andy, which the organization claimed presented demeaning stereotypes of blacks. NAACP lobbying helped secure the signing of black performers such as Lena Horne to film studio contracts.
The Legal Assault on Segregation
To end its dependence on volunteer lawyers, which had proved a large handicap in the Scottsboro case, as well as to wage an all-out fight against segregation, the NAACP in 1935 created its legal department. The creation of the NAACP legal department resulted from a comprehensive study of the association's legal program that Nathan Ross Margold, a white public service lawyer in New York, conducted in 1930 under a grant from the American Fund for
Public Service (later the Garland Fund). Margold suggested that the NAACP "strike directly at the most prolific sources of discrimination" by boldly challenging "the constitutional validity of segregation if and when accompanied irremediably by discrimination." He recommended, furthermore, that the NAACP focus on the glaring disparities between white and black schools.
The NAACP hired Charles H. Houston, the highly respected dean of Howard University School of Law, as its first special counsel. Walter White was responsible for bringing Houston into the NAACP. White had become very impressed with Houston's brilliant defense in 1932 of George Crawford, an African American who was accused of murdering two white women in Virginia. Although a jury convicted Crawford and he was sentenced to life in prison, Houston saved him from the death penalty.
Houston diverged from the Margold report by attacking the unequal financial support of black schools in the South. His strategy was to force the states either to strengthen black institutions or to abandon them because it was too expensive to maintain the avowed "separate but equal" practice. In order to accumulate evidence of unequal funding, Houston and his protegé, Thurgood Marshall, toured the South, investigating conditions. Houston also laid the foundations of the NAACP's successful strategy of sociological jurisprudence in the subsequent direct attack on segregation.
Houston's first line of attack was graduate and professional schools. He successfully tested this strategy in the Maryland Supreme Court case Murray v. Maryland in 1935, the first of a series of challenges that would lead to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Houston left the NAACP in 1938 to return to private law practice in Washington, and was succeeded by Marshall, a graduate of Howard University Law School who had been working with the Baltimore NAACP branch.
Continuing to attack racial inequalities in education, the NAACP filed its first teacher's discrimination pay case in behalf of William Gibbs against the Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland. The county was paying Gibbs $612 a year, whereas a white school principal with comparable qualifications was receiving $1,475. In 1938 the court ordered the county to equalize teachers' salaries, setting a precedent for similar NAACP challenges in other parts of the country. The same year, the NAACP won in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said in the Supreme Court's majority opinion that Missouri's offer of tuition aid to Lloyd Gaines to attend an out-of-state university law school did not constitute equal treatment under the Constitution. In 1939, William H. Hastie, a black scholar and federal judge, succeeded Arthur Spingarn as chair of the NAACP Legal Committee. Soon after, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was incorporated to receive tax deductible contributions for those areas of the NAACP's work that met the Internal Revenue Service's guidelines. The LDF, dubbed the "Inc. Fund" and headed by Thurgood Marshall, was tied to the parent NAACP by interlocking boards.
As in the earlier years, the NAACP's cases covered four major areas: disfranchisement, segregation ordinances, restrictive covenants and due process, and equal protection for blacks accused of crimes. Among the fundamental victories won before the Supreme Court were Smith v. Allwright (1944), in which the all-white Texas Democratic primary was declared unconstitutional; Morgan v. Virginia (1946), in which it was declared that state laws requiring segregated travel could not be enforced in interstate travel; and Shelley v. Kraemer and McGhee v. Sipes (1948), in which it was declared that restrictive housing covenants could not be legally enforced. (Two other cases, Hurd v. Hodge and Urciolo v. Hodge, were argued with the Kraemer and McGhee cases.)
World War II and Postwar Periods
The NAACP's legal campaign during the 1940s was reinforced by its efforts at education and lobbying. During World War II, the NAACP made an enormous effort to secure equal treatment for blacks in the military and in war industries. For example, NAACP officials lobbied successfully for a Navy officer training program for African Americans, and investigated reports of discrimination against black GIs; Walter White personally conducted investigations of discrimination complaints in the European and Pacific theaters. White also championed A. Philip Randolph's 1941 March on Washington movement and was an adviser in the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). In 1942, NAACP investigators reported on living and working conditions in overcrowded cities, although they were largely ignored. After rioting broke out in Detroit and New York's Harlem in 1943, the NAACP backed interracial committee efforts. In 1944, the NAACP organized a Wartime Conference, in which it recorded its "special stake in the abolition of imperialism," due to the preponderance of people of color in colonized nations. With the aid of such staffers as Ella Baker, director of branches from 1943 through 1946, the NAACP grew from 355 branches and 50,556 members in 1940 to 1,073 branches and some 450,000 members by 1946.
After the end of the war, the NAACP redoubled its efforts to pass antilynching legislation. In the face of rising racial violence, such as an antiblack riot in Columbia, Tennessee, the NAACP called for federal civil rights protection. In 1946, Walter White organized a National Emergency Committee against Mob Violence, and met with President Harry Truman to demand action. In 1947, the NAACP provided financial and logistical support for CORE's Journey of Reconciliation, a series of interracial bus rides to challenge discrimination in interstate travel. Clarence Mitchell Jr., director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau, led the fight for a permanent FEPC, which was realized in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
An important factor in NAACP progress was the unprecedented support for civil rights shown by President Harry Truman. In fall 1946, in response to demands from the NAACP for presidential leadership on civil rights, Truman appointed the President's Committee on Civil Rights and made Walter White a key adviser to it. The committee's 1947 Report To Secure These Rights further sharpened the focus of the struggle to destroy segregation and grant full equality to African Americans. It closely followed NAACP recommendations for government action against segregation. In 1947 Truman became the first president to attend an NAACP convention when he addressed the organization's thirty-eighth annual convention in Washington.
In 1948, following NAACP pressure, President Truman issued an executive order barring segregation in the armed forces. The NAACP fought over the next years to implement the mandate. This fight was led by Thurgood Marshall, who conducted studies on the progress of military integration during the Korean War; and by Clarence Mitchell, who led the struggle in Washington to get President Eisenhower and the Defense Department to end all forms of segregation at military establishments in the United States and elsewhere.
During the late 1940s, the NAACP considerably strengthened its antidiscrimination programs and strategies. But with the rise of the Cold War and concerns over communism, the NAACP feared that it, too, would become a target for red baiting. To preserve its integrity, the NAACP adopted a strict anticommunist membership policy and avoided any association with the Communist Party. The NAACP, furthermore, strongly opposed loyalty probes among government workers, fully realized that such investigations would make African Americans scapegoats purely on the basis of race. The organization scored a significant victory in this struggle when Frank Barnes, president of the NAACP's Santa Monica branch, was reinstated in his post office job as a result of the NAACP's intensive campaign to clear his name of charges of disloyalty to the United States.
At the same time, the NAACP directed worldwide attention to the problem of colonialism by sending Walter White and W. E. B. Du Bois as its representatives in 1945 to the founding United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. In 1947 Du Bois dramatically reinforced the NAACP's anticolonial program by presenting to the UN "An Appeal to the World," a 155-page petition composed of five chapters that linked the plight of Africans and other subjects of colonial imperialism with that of African Americans in the United States. The drafting committee of the UN Human Rights Commission debated the petition for two days at a meeting in Geneva.
In 1948 the NAACP continued to express its views on human rights, genocide, and colonialism at the Paris session of the UN General Assembly. That year, the NAACP welcomed the General Assembly's adoption of a Declaration of Human Rights and a Genocide Convention, and regretted that the colonial issue was not promptly settled. The NAACP won considerable support from other nongovernmental agencies for its demand that all colonial territories be placed under UN trusteeship and administered in a manner that would encourage development of indigenous populations. It strongly opposed attempts to return Somaliland and Eritrea, former colonies in Africa, to Italy or to turn them over to any other nation for administration.
Despite Du Bois's continuing contributions to the NAACP in raising world concern over the plight of the darker races in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, strong differences in 1948, caused by his inability to work with Walter White and resulting refusal to follow the organization's administrative procedures, led the NAACP board of directors to refuse to renew his contract. Thus, even though upon Du Bois's return in 1944 as director of special research he remained the symbol of NAACP history, he again left the organization in 1948.
In 1949, Roy Wilkins wrote an editorial in The Crisis strongly attacking black activist Paul Robeson, who was accused of pro-Soviet sentiments. In 1950, the NAACP organized a National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization in Washington to demand passage of civil rights laws. Led by Roy Wilkins, a group of 4,000 delegates representing 100 organizations met with Truman to enlist his support for the struggle in Congress. The mobilization, culminating a decade of NAACP efforts to get Congress to pass fair employment practice and other civil rights laws, signaled the birth of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR).
The core of the NAACP's struggle for the passage of antiviolence and other civil rights laws was waged through its Washington bureau, which was created in 1942, as well as its branches. In addition to being executive secretary, Walter White served as the bureau's first director from its creation until 1950, when he relinquished the position to Clarence Mitchell, who also served as legislative chair of the LCCR. Mitchell's function in developing the organization's political strategy and legislative program was similar to Thurgood Marshall's in the legal area. Both men served in positions that were a notch under the executive secretary.
The most important element in the civil rights struggle, nevertheless, was the NAACP's branches, which provided essential grassroots support and lobbying clout. In 1951, the association had 1,253 branches, youth councils, and college chapters, and a membership of 210,000 which for the first time since 1947 represented an encouraging increase. An indication of the NAACP's strength was that in 1950, for the first time in its history, it held its annual conference in the Deep South in Atlanta. There, 7,500 blacks and whites packed the municipal auditorium to hear Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ralph Bunche, the NAACP's onetime critic. Bunche, by then an NAACP
board member, assailed the "tyranny of the segregation laws of the South" and the failure of Congress to pass civil rights legislation.
Since Southerners in Congress continued to block passage of civil rights laws, the best promise of success lay with the courts, as the NAACP had determined earlier. In 1950, the Supreme Court took decisive steps in two cases brought by the NAACP toward ending the "separate but equal" doctrine. In the first case, Sweatt v. Painter, the Court ruled that the separate black law school the state of Texas had established to accommodate Heman Sweatt was not and could not be equal to that provided for white students at the University of Texas. In the second case, McLaurin v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the University of Oklahoma could not segregate G. W. McLaurin within its graduate school once he had been admitted.
Encouraged by the decisions in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma, the NAACP in 1951 launched a well-planned "Equality Under Law" campaign to overturn racial separation at its roots — in elementary and secondary schools. This drive was launched with the filing of lawsuits against school districts in Atlanta; Clarendon County, South Carolina; Topeka, Kansas; and Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1953, Dr. Channing H. Tobias, the newly elected chair of the NAACP board of directors, launched a "Fight for Freedom Fund" campaign and a goal of "Free by '63." This slogan was designed to mobilize all of the organization's resources for what the NAACP saw as the final phase of the struggle to eliminate all state-imposed discrimination in celebration of the centennial of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Reinforcing the climate of great anticipation within the civil rights community, President Eisenhower on May 10 addressed the NAACP's "Freedom Fulfillment" conference in Washington. He pledged that wherever the federal authority extended he would do his utmost to bring about racial equality. With help from the fund-raising campaign, the NAACP's membership grew to 240,000 by 1954.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling in the four school desegregation cases that the NAACP had initiated, plus another case challenging segregation in the District of Columbia. Reasserting the full meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, the court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Shortly thereafter, the NAACP won another historic victory, when the Department of Defense reported that as of August 31, 1954, there were "no longer any all-Negro units in the services."
Less than a year after he had led the celebrations of the school desegregation case victory, Walter White died. He had developed the organization that James Weldon Johnson had passed on to him into the most powerful vehicle of its kind for achieving racial equality. Brown v. Board of Education was his crowning achievement as much as it was Thurgood Marshall's. However, in his last years, White was an increasingly embattled figure. His flamboyant style and overinvolvement in outside activities had made him many enemies on the NAACP board, and many African Americans angrily criticized his marriage to a white woman in 1949. That year White took a leave of absence and, upon his return in 1950, the board sharply restricted his policy-making power.
White left a staff of experienced professionals in their prime of productivity; in addition to Wilkins, White had hired Clarence Mitchell as labor secretary, Gloster B. Current as director of branches in 1946, and Henry Lee Moon, a former newspaper reporter, as director of public relations in 1948.
Roy Wilkins, who was elected in April 1955 to succeed White as NAACP executive director, faced enormous challenges. Wilkins's first problem was pressing for the enforcement of the Brown decision and for passage of FEPC and other civil rights laws. NAACP lawyers participated in the formation of desegregation plans and monitored compliance with Brown. In 1956, under NAACP sponsorship, Autherine Lucy, an African American, won a court ruling admitting her to the University of Alabama. University officials expelled her, however, on the pretext of preventing violence. The NAACP also made its struggle for passage of civil rights laws in Congress a top priority.
At the same time, the organization was forced to expend effort combatting the onslaught that the South had unleashed on the organization. The NAACP's trail-blazing victories in the courts, especially the Brown decision, made it a main target of the South's campaign of "massive resistance."
The resurgent Ku Klux Klan figured strongly in the backlash of white violence, but it was not the only threat the NAACP faced from the South. Less than two months after the Brown decision was handed down, political leaders, businessmen, and the professional elite organized the White Citizens' Council in Mississippi. Overnight, councils sprang up in other states. Regarded as "manicured kluxism," the White Citizens' Councils used economic and political pressure to prevent implementation of the Brown decision. In March 1956, nearly all of the southerners in Congress showed their defiance of Brown by signing the "Southern Manifesto," which called the Supreme Court decision "illegal."
Prior to this period, Southerners had targeted individual blacks through lynchings and other forms of violence in their campaign of terror. Now the NAACP was attacked by these groups. On Christmas night of 1951, the home of Harry T. Moore, the NAACP's field secretary in Mims, Florida, was bombed. Moore died in the blast and his wife died a few days later from injuries she received that night. In 1955, NAACP officials the Rev. George W. Lee and Lamar Smith of Belzoni, Mississippi were shot to death, and Gus Courts, president of the Belzoni NAACP branch, was shot, wounded, and later forced to abandon his store and flee to Chicago.
The NAACP charged that racial violence was a manifestation of the broader pattern of opposition to civil rights and demanded that the Justice Department protect blacks in the state and elsewhere in the South. The Justice Department, however, responded that it lacked authority to prosecute suspected murderers and civil rights violaters in what it claimed were state jurisdictions.
Despite the violence, the NAACP continued to grow. The number of branches in Mississippi increased from ten to twenty-one during 1955, while membership jumped 100 percent. The NAACP took several steps to aid local blacks. In December, the NAACP board of directors voted to deposit $20,000 in the Tri-State Bank in Memphis in order to increase the bank's reserves and enable it to make more loans to embattled blacks. The board called for an investigation of the operation in Mississippi of the federal "surplus commodities" program, which provided food to the destitute, to see if it discriminated against blacks. National NAACP officials also pushed for a meeting with the Mississippi Power and Light Company to inquire about cutoffs of power to businessmen active with the NAACP and overcharges for restoration.
In 1956, Louisiana led the South in a more deliberate assault on the NAACP when its attorney general demanded that the association's branches file their membership lists with the state. Because the NAACP refused to do so, the attorney general obtained an injunction barring the organization from operating in Louisiana. Alabama, Texas, and Georgia followed with similar punitive actions. In 1958, the Supreme Court (in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson ) overturned Alabama's fine of $100,000 against the NAACP because it refused to disclose the names and addresses of its members. But the Court then did not lift the injunction that barred the NAACP from operating in Alabama. Furthermore, the supreme courts in Arkansas and Florida held that the High Court's ruling did not affect those states. Not until June 1, 1964, after four appeals, would the U.S. Supreme Court rule unanimously that the NAACP had a right to register in Alabama as a foreign corporation. The ruling, in effect, overturned similar bans against the NAACP in other southern states and paved the way for it to resume operations in Alabama on October 29.
On January 14, 1963, for the Supreme Court in another significant case (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button ) also overturned Virginia's antibarratry law, which was enacted in 1956, prohibiting the NAACP from sponsoring, financing, or providing legal counsel in suits challenging the validity of the state's segregation and other anti-civil rights laws.
One consequence of the southern crusade against the NAACP following the Brown decision was the splitting off of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a process that began in 1956 and ended in 1961. The split was caused by threats from the Southerners to rescind the LDF's tax-exempt status, and by personal differences within the NAACP. The LDF made the battle in the courts for school desegregation its main project, while the parent NAACP continued its strategy of legal and political action in numerous forms. Robert Carter, who was on the LDF's staff, was chosen as the NAACP's general counsel and he began setting up a new legal department. Carter led the NAACP's battle against the state injunctions.
The South's response to desegregation made the NAACP intensify its call for President Eisenhower to enforce Brown, and to provide the leadership which it regarded as essential for defeating the South's steadfast resistance to the passage of civil rights laws in Congress. NAACP leaders argued that the President's prestige could overwhelm the Southerners' use of committee chairmanships and the filibuster rule in the Senate to bottle up civil rights legislation. Eisenhower, a state's rights advocate, nevertheless supported the NAACP's demand that there should be no discrimination in federally funded programs and in the armed forces; but he was opposed to federal action to enforce Brown.
In 1956, responding to the NAACP's demands, election-year domestic considerations, and international pressure, Eisenhower called for civil rights legislation in his State of the Union address. The administration's package became the basis of debate in the bill H.R. 627. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas, who believed that passage of some civil rights legislation was inevitable, began maneuvering to shape a compromise on the bill that would blunt its strongest provisions and break the southern filibuster. The civil rights forces were therefore left with what was essentially a weak voting rights law. Still, the 1957 Civil Rights Act created a division of civil rights in the Justice Department and a bipartisan Civil Rights Commission. Furthermore, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first such bill passed by Congress in eighty-two years, broke the psychological barrier to civil rights measures, making it easier for future efforts to succeed.
The encouraging breakthrough of the passage of the Civil Rights Act was somewhat overshadowed that September by the Little Rock crisis, in which Governor Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to block implementation of a federal court desegregation order at Central High School. To uphold the Constitution and end rioting, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock. His action enabled nine black children (the "Little Rock Nine") to attend the school.
The NAACP launched its "Golden Anniversary" celebrations on February 12, 1959, with services at the Community Church of New York City. One of the most promising indications of the organization's future strength was the presence of 624 youths among the 2,000 delegates who packed the New York Coliseum during the annual convention, which concluded with a rally at the Polo Grounds. In December, the NAACP held its third annual Freedom Fund dinner in New York, where it honored Marian Anderson, the celebrated concert singer, and Gardner Cowles, publisher of Look magazine. The celebrations revealed the broad acceptance of the NAACP as an institution. However, its mastery was to be challenged in the 1960s by a new generation of more militant activists.
The first sign of the tensions the NAACP would face came in 1955 and 1956, when blacks in Alabama, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to lead the boycott against segregated city buses. Although the movement was sparked by NAACP legal victories against segregation and the principal leaders of the boycott were also local NAACP leaders, the strategy of nonviolent demonstrations that they adopted was a substantial departure from the association's well-defined legal and political program. Similarly, while NAACP lawyers successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court case Gayle v. Browder (1956), which handed victory to the boycotters, the MIA displayed impatience with the NAACP's carefully structured programs and centralized direction.
Inspired by the tactics of nonviolent protest, NAACP Youth Council chapters in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City further successfully tested a new confrontation strategy in 1958 by staging "sit-downs" at lunch counters to protest segregation. The protests led to the desegregation of 60 or more lunch counters. In 1959, the NAACP chapter at Washington University in St. Louis conducted sit-ins to end segregation at local lunch counters. The same year, the NAACP hired former CORE activist James Farmer as program director, but he was unable to move the association toward support for mass demonstrations, and he returned to CORE as executive director after less than two years.
As important as the Youth Council demonstrations were, however, they did not capture national media attention because they were not conducted in parts of the United States where racial tensions were highest. On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat at a segregated store lunch counter in Greensboro and refused to leave until they were served. Two of the students, Ezell Blair and Joseph McNeil, were former officers of the NAACP's college chapter. The NAACP was heavily involved — the sit-in was conducted in consultation with Dr. George Simpkins, president of the Greensboro NAACP branch, and Ralph Jones, president of the branch's executive committee. The Greensboro actions set the stage for the sit-in movement, which spread like brush fire through the South.
The NAACP declared that it was proud that many of its youth members, from Virginia to Texas, were participating in the sit-ins. NAACP branch officials, notably Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers, coordinated protest campaigns. Nevertheless, the students' confrontations with Jim Crow was an expression of impatience with the NAACP's carefully executed legal and political programs. There was a dramatic clash of strategies, with the NAACP adhering firmly to its philosophy of change through court action and legislation, while King and the students marched under the banner of nonviolent direct action and local change. (The problems of strategy and organizational discipline merged as early as 1959, when Roy Wilkins suspended Robert Williams, president of the NAACP's Monroe, North Carolina, branch, for advocating that the NAACP meet "violence with violence.") Despite the ideological clash and the intense competition for financial contributions, media attention, and historical recognition, the young activists' strategy complemented the NAACP's. The NAACP provided large sums for bail money and legal support for the demonstrators and joined more militant movement groups in local alliances, such as the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which sponsored voter registration and other activities in Mississippi.
Despite the media attention that the demonstrations in the South drew, by 1962 the NAACP's 388,347 members in 46 states and the District of Columbia helped it to remain the leader in civil rights. That growth was especially significant, given that repeated court injunctions, state administrative regulations, punitive legislation, and other intimidating actions prevented many people from working with the NAACP in the South. The restrictions on the NAACP opened a window of opportunity for action by groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; organized with the aid of NAACP veteran Ella Baker), as well as NAACP spinoffs such as the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, the NAACP's board was undergoing a change. Robert C. Weaver, an economist and national housing expert, was elected chair in 1960. Weaver resigned in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy appointed him administrator of the Federal Housing and Home Financing Administration. He was succeeded by Bishop Stephen Gil Spottswood of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
The NAACP's most outstanding contribution to the civil rights movement continued to be its legal and lobbying efforts. In 1958, the NAACP forced the University of Florida to desegregate. A similar lawsuit was pending against the University of Georgia when it desegregated in 1961. In 1962, the NAACP led the battle to desegregate the University of Mississippi. The effort was directed by Constance Baker Motley of the LDF staff. Nevertheless, the fact that the parent NAACP featured the struggle in its 1962 annual report showed the extent to which the battle to enroll James H. Meredith in the university was also its own. After Mississippi governor Ross Barnett defied a federal court order, President Kennedy was forced to send in federal troops to quell a riot and assure Meredith's admittance.
The NAACP used the President's pleas for compliance, as well as the South's brutal opposition to the nonviolent demonstrations, to reinforce its struggle in Washington for passage of a meaningful civil rights law. Following the breakthrough in 1957, the NAACP had gotten Congress to pass the 1960 Civil Rights Act. That, however, was only a weak voting rights amendment to the 1957 act. Kennedy, insisting that comprehensive civil rights legislation would not pass, refused to send any to Congress. In February 1963, Kennedy submitted a weak civil rights bill. Mobilizing a historic coalition through the LCCR, the NAACP began an all-out struggle for passage of the bill as well as the strengthening of its provisions. NAACP pickets in Lawrence, Kansas, New York City, Newark, and Philadelphia helped highlight the struggle for such provisions as a national fair employment practice law.
Events in 1963 reshaped the civil rights bill and the struggle. The demonstrations in Birmingham that King led during the spring provoked national outrage. On June 11th, in response to the demonstrations, President Kennedy delivered a televised civil rights address. The following night, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. On June 19, the day Evers was buried at Arlington Cemetery, Kennedy sent Congress a revised civil rights bill that was much stronger than the one he had submitted in February.
The climactic event of 1963 was the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom (MOW). A. Philip Randolph had initiated the call for a march in January. The NAACP, nevertheless, led in organizing it and saw to it that the march, held on August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial, broadened its focus to include the legislative struggle. From a strategic point of view, Clarence Mitchell and the NAACP Washington bureau regarded the legislative conference it held with NAACP branch leaders earlier in August as more meaningful to the struggle in Congress than the MOW had been. Both, nevertheless, served the intended purpose.
Following the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963, Lyndon Johnson vowed to ensure passage of his predecessor's civil rights bill and provided the leadership that the NAACP had demanded from the executive branch. In the final, crucial phase of the struggle in the Senate, Johnson orchestrated the coordinated leadership of Majority Leader Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Minority Leader Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.). Debate on the 1964 civil rights bill, H.R. 7152, began in earnest on March 10 and lasted until June 10, when the civil rights forces were finally able to break the filibuster.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an immense victory for the NAACP. Following its passage, the NAACP began work on legislation to protect the right to vote. Following the Selma-to-Montgomery march, led by King, to protest the continuing disfranchisement of blacks in the South, the national climate was favorable to such a bill, and the NAACP was again left to direct the struggle in Congress for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This struggle was much less dramatic than that of 1964, perhaps because many expected its passage. Even so, as in 1957, the NAACP was hard-pressed to ward off attempts to weaken the bill. Its success in this battle was evident by the strong law that Congress passed.
Following passage of the civil rights laws, the NAACP switched its attention to enforcement, particularly in the areas of public school desegregation, employment, and housing. It also sought and won passage of strengthening provisions, such as amendments to the equal employment opportunity title of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It won the first extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 1970 with a provision extending protection for the right to vote, as well as subsequent ones. The programs remained centered in large part on the activities of the branches and its labor, education, and housing departments.
Despite the NAACP's crucial contribution to legislation which ended state-sponsored racial discrimination, the organization, with its interracial structure and integrationist philosophy, was scorned by increasing numbers of young blacks during the late 1960s as old-fashioned and overly cautious. The cycle of urban racial violence during the 1960s displayed the limits of the NAACP's program in appealing to frustrated urban blacks. President Johnson appointed Roy Wilkins a member of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, and the commission's well-known 1968 report reflected fully the NAACP's concerns.
Despite the radical criticism of the NAACP's program, the vitality of the organization's legal strategy was manifest by its success in passing legislation despite the embittered climate for black rights. While the NAACP shared credit with the other civil rights organizations for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, there can be no doubt about its central role in 1968, when the Fair Housing Act was passed. Fearing the failure of a legislative struggle for fair housing legislation, many black leaders asked President Johnson to issue instead a comprehensive executive order barring discrimination in government-sponsored housing programs and federally insured mortgages. Johnson, however, did not want to deal with the problem piecemeal, and the NAACP supported him. The wisdom of that decision was evident on April 11, when President Johnson signed the 1968 Fair Housing Act, although its final version was somewhat weaker than the NAACP had originally intended. The final days of this struggle were overshadowed by the assassination of Dr. King in Memphis on April 4. The following day, at a meeting of civil rights leaders at the White House, the NAACP agreed to a suggestion that Congress be urged to pass the fair housing bill as a tribute to the slain leader.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the NAACP faced new and sometimes more difficult challenges than in the past. These problems now resulted from systemic or endemic discrimination, which were more difficult to identify than state-imposed segregation and required the development of new strategies to correct. One of the organization's most important functions became the designing and implementing of affirmative action and minority hiring programs with government and private business. This struggle was led by Nathaniel R. Jones, who replaced Robert Carter as the NAACP's general counsel in 1969. (Jones served in this position for ten years, before leaving to become a judge on the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, in Cincinnati.) The NAACP brought suits or sent amicus curiae briefs in many notable affirmative action cases during the 1960s and 1970s. For example, in 1969 the NAACP brought Head v. Timken Roller Bearing Co., of Columbus, Ohio, a landmark antidiscrimination lawsuit. In 1976, it won a consent decree, with a settlement by which twenty-five black workers were awarded back pay and won expanded promotional opportunities into previously all-white craft jobs. As a result of another lawsuit, filed against the Indiana State Police Department, twenty black troopers were hired, bringing the number on the thousand-man force to twenty-three.
Another aspect of the NAACP's legal struggle was the campaign against the death penalty. This struggle was led primarily by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which monitored death penalty cases and compiled statistics demonstrating racial disproportions in death penalty sentencing outcomes. As a result, in Furman v. Georgia (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily struck down the death penalty.
Among the NAACP's other achievements was a continuation of the thirty-eight-year-old struggle to defeat unfavorable nominees to the Supreme Court. The NAACP scored a double victory against the nomination in 1969 of Judge Clement F. Haynsworth of South Carolina and in 1970 of Judge G. Harrold Carswell of Florida as Supreme Court justices. The NAACP opposed them because of their records on racial issues. The NAACP would continue to be influential in the confirmation process — for example, in 1987 the organization led the successful opposition to the Supreme Court appointment of Robert Bork and in 1990 helped defeat the confirmation of William Lucas, an African-American conservative, as assistant attorney for civil rights.
Still another focus of NAACP efforts was its ongoing campaign against media stereotypes. NAACP pressure had succeeded in removing Amos 'n' Andy from network first-run television in the early 1950s; in the 1960s, NAACP pressure was partly responsible for the creation of the TV series Julia, the first series with a positive African-American leading character. In the 1980s, the NAACP organized protests of Steven Spielberg's film The Color Purple owing to its white director and negative portrayal of black men.
The Search for New Direction
By the mid-1970s, the NAACP once again was forced into a period of transition. Henry Lee Moon retired in 1974. In 1976 Roy Wilkins retired as NAACP executive director. He had devoted forty-five years to the struggle and fulfilled most of his goals. In 1978 Clarence Mitchell also retired. Meanwhile, as a sign of the growing influence of women in the organization and the civil rights movement, in 1975 Margaret Bush Wilson, a St. Louis lawyer, was elected to chair the NAACP board of directors. Twenty years later, Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, was elected as its chair, and Hazel Dukes was named president of the powerful New York state chapter.
Along with the problems connected with the change in administration, the NAACP faced grave financial problems and some opposition to its program among blacks, who continued to criticize the NAACP as irrelevant to black needs. This opposition was an important challenge facing Benjamin L. Hooks, a minister, lawyer, and member of the Federal Communications Commission, when he became executive director of the association in January 1977. Hooks assumed command of the NAACP at a time when it was not only struggling to devise an effective strategy for new civil rights challenges but battling for its very existence.
In 1976, two adverse judgments in lawsuits against the NAACP in Mississippi had presented it with the worst crisis in its lifetime: A court awarded Robert Moody, a state highway patrolman, $250,000 as a result of a lawsuit charging libel and slander that he had filed against the NAACP. Local NAACP officials and its state field director had charged Moody with police brutality because he had allegedly beaten a black man while arresting him on a reckless driving charge. To protect its assets, the NAACP had to borrow money to post the required $262,000 bond, though it eventually won reversal of the judgment in appeals.
Then, the Hinds County chancery court in Jackson, Mississippi, handed down a $1.25 million judgment against the NAACP as a result of a lawsuit that local businessmen had filed against the organization following a boycott of their stores. Under Mississippi law, in order to forestall the seizure of its assets pending an appeal, the NAACP had to post a cash bond amounting to 125 percent of the judgment, which was $1,563,374. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment in 1982. However, the experience was sobering.
The NAACP was disconcerted by the Supreme Court ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. The Court ruled five to four that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act barred a university medical school's special admissions program for blacks and ordered a white applicant's admission. Although another bare majority ruled that race was a constitutionally valid criterion for admission programs, the Court had increased the difficulty of developing specific programs to meet constitutional tests.
The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, at a time when the NAACP was still groping for effective programs to meet new challenges, was an even more ominous development. The Reagan administration all but destroyed the effectiveness of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the Equal Employment Commission. In 1984, Benjamin Hooks led a 125,000-person March on Washington to protest the "legal lynching" of civil rights by the Reagan administration.
Questions concerning Hooks's leadership gained national attention in 1983 when Board Chair Margaret Wilson unilaterally suspended him. Outraged that Wilson had reprimanded Hooks without its approval, the board replaced her with Kelly Alexander Sr., a North Carolina mortician. Following Alexander's death in 1986, the board elected Dr. William F. Gibson, a South Carolina dentist, as chairman. In order to oust Gibson, who was bitterly criticized for his leadership of the NAACP, Myrlie Evers led one of the fiercest internal battles in the organization's history.
Despite those setbacks, Hooks led the NAACP in winning several promising agreements from corporations, such as $1 billion from the American Gas Association, to provide jobs and other economic opportunities for blacks under a fair share program he inaugurated. In 1986, Hooks relocated the NAACP's national headquarters to Baltimore. Among his other accomplishments was the ACT-SO (Afro-Academic Cultural Technological Scientific Olympics) program he created to promote academic experience among minority youth through local, regional, and national competition. His goal was to seek proficiency in all academic areas, but with a special emphasis in the arts and humanities and the applied, technical, and social sciences. Hooks also continued the NAACP's political action programs with a special emphasis on voter registration.
In April 1993, Hooks retired as NAACP executive director. The board of directors had considerable difficulty deciding on a successor. Candidates included the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The board finally selected the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., an official of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, who had once served more than four years in prison after being wrongly convicted on charges of conspiracy and arson for setting fire to a grocery store in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1972. Chavis, much younger than his predecessor, was chosen in an attempt to revitalize the NAACP by attracting new sources of funding and reaching out to young African Americans. Chavis also called for the NAACP to expand its efforts to serve other minority interests.
Chavis's short tenure proved extremely controversial. In accord with his policy of attracting young African Americans, he shifted NAACP policy in a nationalistic direction and embraced black separatists, whom the NAACP had previously denounced. Chavis succeeded in increasing youth interest in the NAACP and was praised for his meetings with gang leaders, but he was widely criticized for inviting black radicals such as Nation of Islam chair Louis Farrakhan to a black leadership conference, and for refusing to disassociate himself from the Nation's anti-Semitic policies. The NAACP's membership dropped significantly as a result.
Chavis also met with opposition to his administrative policies. NAACP board members were angered by his unauthorized policy statements, such as his approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, Chavis was blamed for running up the organization's deficit, already swelled by declining memberships, to $1.2 million through staff salary increases. When in the summer of 1994 it was disclosed that Chavis had used organization money in an out-of-court settlement of a sexual harassment suit filed by a female staffer, there began to be calls for his resignation. On August 20, 1994, in a meeting of the board of directors, Chavis was removed as executive director.
The schism over Chavis's policies provided a forum for fundamental disagreements between blacks over the role of civil rights organizations. With full legal equality substantially achieved, the NAACP continued to face questions regarding the best use of its leadership and the appropriate strategy to employ in attacking the problems of African Americans.
The NAACP spent most of the following years attempting to assess its role. In February 1995, NAACP Board Chair William Gibson was forced to resign, and Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was named to the position. Under Evers-Williams's supervision, the organization restructured its finances and reaffirmed its intergrationist mission. In December 1995, Representative Kweisi Mfume announced that he would leave Congress to take over the daily operation of the NAACP. Under Mfume's leadership, the organization erased its fiscal deficit and renewed its activism on many fronts, including human rights, environmental racism, and justice for African Americans. In February 1998, Evers-Williams resigned and civil rights veteran Julian Bond became chair of the board. Bond spoke forcefully of the need for the NAACP to renew its focus on encouraging blacks to gain power through voting, and the NAACP took credit for the increase in the black vote in the 1998 congressional elections.
Bond has continued as chair of the NAACP into the twenty-first century, although the organization has once again come under attack, this time for remarks made by Bond during his keynote address at the NAACP's July 11, 2004 convention in Philadelphia in which he criticized both political parties and also challenged President George W. Bush's policies on the war in Iraq, civil liberties, the economy, and education. This has led to an investigation by the IRS into a possible violation of the NAACP's tax-exempt status, which bars nonpartisan, nonprofit groups from improper political bias and campaign intervention. If the government rules that the NAACP is too partisan to be considered a legitimate nonprofit, the IRS could then revoke the group's tax-exempt status.
The NAACP underwent another change in leadership with the resignation of President and CEO Kweisi Mfume in January 2005. Mfume cited a desire to spend more time with his family as his reason for stepping down. He later announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate (for Maryland) in 2006. During his nine-year tenure, Mfume succeeded in retiring the organization's debt and put a focus on increasing the participation of a younger generation of African Americans, including increasing the number of NAACP college campus branches to more than 140. However, his detractors point out that he did little to draw attention to health, education, and criminal justice issues in the black community. Membership is also stagnant at an estimated 500,000, although the NAACP is working to increase its overall membership by 20 percent in the coming years. Dennis Courtland Hayes served as General Counsel in charge of the NAACP's legal program to eliminate racial discrimination and was the interim President and CEO until June 2005. While the NAACP's focus remains on civil rights enforcement, voter and economic empowerment, educational excellence, and youth recruitment, members also hope that new leadership with come up with a clear and inclusive message for the black community and promote grassroot efforts that will connect both locally and nationally. In June 2005 Bruce S. Gordon was named as the new president and CEO of the NAACP.
See also Bagnall, Robert; Bunche, Ralph; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Crisis, The ; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Garvey, Marcus; Great Depression and the New Deal; Johnson, James Weldon; Lynching; Messenger, The ; National Negro Congress; Niagara Movement; Politics in the United States; Randolph, Asa Philip; Riots and Popular Protests; Scottsboro Case; Socialism; Spingarn Medal; Trotter, William Monroe; Universal Negro Improvement Association; Washington, Booker T.; White, Walter Francis; Wells-Barnett, Ida B.
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denton l. watson (1996)
christine tomassini (2005)
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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (NAACP)
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on February 12, 1909, on the fringes of the progressive movement at Charity Organization Hall in New York City. The organization evolved with the changing social milieu as it struggled to implement its egalitarian philosophy with programs designed to obtain basic citizenship rights for African Americans. The programs developed along two distinct paths: (1) agitation and education, which would become the organization's well-defined political course, and (2) legal, which would define its constitutional foundation. As the NAACP stated in its tenth annual report, its goal was "to reach the conscience of America" in seeking racial equality. Until June 26, 1934, when he resigned from the organization, W. E. B. Du Bois led the NAACP in developing its agitation and education program. Du Bois accomplished his mission through the organization's official magazine, The Crisis, which he edited; through his prolific writings and speeches; and through his founding of Pan Africanism.
By 1930, despite the financial ravages of the Great Depression, the NAACP was a major force in the burgeoning liberal phalanx that included the expanding organized Congress-labor movement and the socialist forces that would create the New Deal. Walter Francis White, who succeeded James Weldon Johnson that year as executive secretary, demonstrated the NAACP's growing political strength by launching the struggle that defeated President Herbert Hoover's nomination of Judge John J. Parker of North Carolina to the U.S. Supreme Court by a thirty-nine to forty-one vote in the Senate. Challenging Hoover's "lily-white policies" and his indifference to the black electorate, the NAACP opposed the nomination because of a speech Parker had given ten years earlier endorsing black disenfranchisement.
The Parker fight marked the coming to political maturity of African Americans who previously were ignored. The Washington Post published a lengthy feature on May 18, 1930, noting the development. The Crisis targeted several senators who had supported Parker's nomination and were running for reelection in 1930, 1932, and 1934. Eleven were defeated, but as The Crisis noted in its December 1934 issue, three "escaped" by winning reelection. White observed in his 1948 autobiography, A Man CalledWhite, "Out of these effective hard-hitting and uncompromising campaigns two changed political attitudes came." White politicians "were forced to recognize that the Negro voter no longer was gullible, purchasable, or complacent as before and would have to be recognized as an increasingly potent force in the American political scene." Furthermore, African Americans "found new hope and dignity" when "hitherto their efforts had been crowned at best with purely 'moral' victories." In "the Parker fight victory had been achieved and a philosophy and aura of success had replaced the purely protest values of preceding battles." Editorials in the black press confirmed the transformation. William Hastie, a member of the NAACP national board, concluded that victory strengthened the NAACP's belief that the ballot was "the most important phase of the Negro's effort to improve his status in America."
Economic inequality, though, remained a burning issue. Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential victory in 1932 further confirmed that concern; it also marked the beginning of the seismic shift of African Americans away from the Republican to the Democratic Party, a shift that became dramatic in Roosevelt's 1936 reelection. The Great Depression and the New Deal confirmed the maturity of the NAACP as a civil rights organization, a national bureaucratic machine with branches in every state. The deterioration of the economic position of African Americans, however, forced the NAACP to begin reexamining its strategy and emphasizing the economic needs of the masses. "We are becoming concerned," an NAACP statement declared, "that we are able to accomplish so little....We are going to continue to agitate....But we believe what the Negro needs primarily is a definite economic program."
The endemic discrimination of the New Deal's alphabet soup of programs opened the NAACP to intense criticisms from young radical black intellectuals, including John P. Davis, head of the Joint Committee on National Recovery, who pushed the association to further shift its focus to economic issues. The most prominent of these radicals, who were centered at Howard University in Washington, D.C., were economist Abraham L. Harris, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, and political scientist Ralph J. Bunche. As Bunche noted, "the New Deal for the first time gave broad recognition to the existence of the African American as a national problem and undertook to give special consideration to this fact in many ways, though the basic evils remained untouched." Another prominent critic was Charles Hamilton Houston, associate dean of Howard University Law School, who also pressed the NAACP to shift its focus from anti-lynching to economic issues.
In 1933, the NAACP held a second Amenia Conference at the Troutbeck estate of Joel E. Spingarn, its president, in upstate New York, to develop a broader civil rights program and strategy. Unlike the first Amenia Conference held in 1916, which was integrated, the second was all-black. The conference concluded that a union of black and white workers was needed in the labor movement to direct America's economic and political life. The following year, the NAACP began implementing this program by appointing a Committee on Future Plan and Program of the NAACP, headed by Harris. The organization's economic program included the launching in 1936 of a sustained legal battle in Baltimore, Maryland, against unequal salaries for African-American teachers.
At the same time, under Houston's direction, the NAACP launched its legal campaign against educational inequalities. In 1935, Houston and his protégé Thurgood Marshall (later to become the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court) won in the Baltimore City Court the NAACP's trailblazing legal challenge to segregation at the University of Maryland Law School. Their success helped set the stage for subsequent NAACP's court challenges that led to the landmark victory in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the "separate but equal" doctrine, established in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson-case, was unconstitutional. To accomplish that goal, Houston recommended to the NAACP that it attack the unequal funding of schools in the South in order to make maintaining segregation within the context of "separate but equal" so expensive that the region would be forced to abandon its Jim Crow education system. His recommendation, more limited and direct, varied from that of Nathan Margold of Harvard University, a white expert in constitutional law, who had earlier urged the NAACP to abandon its case-by-case attack on discrimination by directly challenging the constitutional validity of the "separate but equal" doctrine.
Part of the reason the NAACP reacted slowly during the Depression to increasing demands from blacks for assistance was that its leaders feared infiltration by Communists, and the NAACP was anxious to avoid fly-by-night projects. White, furthermore, had strong reservations about embracing a more "mass-oriented" program. Nevertheless, the NAACP could not disregard the obvious inequalities in the implementation of New Deal programs, including wage differentials sanctioned by the National Recovery Administration; the exclusion of black sharecroppers from the benefits of the Agricultural Adjustment Act; and the exclusion of black-dominated occupations, such as agricultural and domestic work, from Social Security coverage. The programs of other New Deal agencies, such as the Works Progress Administration, the National Youth Administration, and the United States Housing Authority, helped attract blacks to the Democratic Party, but the party itself, especially its southern wing, remained discriminatory. Most of the NAACP's effort to end discrimination in New Deal agencies was waged through the Joint Committee on National Recovery, which was composed of twenty-two national racial and interracial organizations.
White, furthermore, established a solid and warm working alliance with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, enabling the NAACP to garner added respect and ready access to the White House. This access was essential because, as White explained, "the President was frankly unwilling to challenge the Southern leaders of his party."
As a member of the NAACP national board of directors, Eleanor Roosevelt remained fully attuned to the thinking of blacks with the help of her friend, Mary McLeod Bethune, spiritual leader of the New Deal's Black Cabinet. Mrs. Roosevelt worked tirelessly to influence the course of government for the benefit of the NAACP and African Americans. A noteworthy challenge for her was the refusal in 1939 by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to permit the African-American contralto Marian Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall. Roosevelt protested the decision by resigning from the DAR. With the president's blessing (and at Eleanor's nudging), the Department of the Interior approved the use of the Lincoln Memorial for the concert, which was held under the auspices of the NAACP. Characteristically, White relished another victory over bigotry. Nothing made him happier, however, than Anderson's exquisitely beautiful performance, which brought tears of joy streaming down the face of one young girl who said, "If Marian Anderson could do it ... then I can, too."
The NAACP's activities during the Great Depression considerably strengthened its political and legal programs, enabling it in the 1940s to become an early leader in the modern civil rights movement. Its Depression-era programs contributed to the reaffirmation by the federal courts of the principle of equality under the Fourteenth Amendment, and to the subsequent adoption by the federal government of civil rights policies, and the enactment of a comprehensive package of new laws to protect those rights.
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Hastie, William H. "A Look at the NAACP." The Crisis (September 1939): 263–264.
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McNeil, Genna Rae. Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights. 1983.
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Denton L. Watson
"National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Jul. 2019 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.
"National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/national-association-advancement-colored-people-naacp
"National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Retrieved July 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/national-association-advancement-colored-people-naacp