The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
By Catherine A. Paul
“In the last century, this nation has been transformed, and the leadership and vision of the NAACP has been a defining force in the founding of this New America. The NAACP has been a beacon of light in the midst of the storms of separation and discord that could have torn this nation apart. Born out of the crisis of racial violence during the riots of 1908, the NAACP has labored, sacrificed, and some of its members have even died struggling to lead this nation toward a more just, more peaceful society. The courage of this one organization to stand in the gap and call for justice has made this a better, more fair, more deeply democratic America.” Representative John Lewis (D-GA)
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909 by W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, and Mary White Ovington and is recognized as the United States’ oldest civil rights organization (Behring Center, n.d.). The establishment of the NAACP was largely inspired by the 1908 Springfield, Illinois Race Riot and Du Bois’ Niagara Movement for civil rights, which began in 1905 (NAACP, n.d.). During the first seven years of the NAACP, growth was slow; however the nation-wide publishing and distribution of The Crisis, A Record of the Darker Races, accelerated membership growth (St. James, 1958). By 1918, the NAACP had 43,994 members with 165 branches in 38 states and in Canada and Panama (Finch, 1981).
In 1910, W. E. B. Du Bois founded The Crisis, A Record of the Darker Races, a groundbreaking monthly magazine that discussed critical issues faced by African Americans, providing an avenue by which intellectual and artistic pieces could be disseminated (NAACP, n.d.). The Crisis was immediately successful; within its first year, The Crisis distributed 12,000 copies (St. James, 1958). Likewise, from 1920-1921, Du Bois published The Brownies’ Book, a children’s edition of The Crisis, which was the first periodical for black youth in U.S. history. The Crisis is considered to be a voice of the Harlem Renaissance, publishing works by Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, amongst others (NAACP, n.d.).
Between 1920 and 1950, the NAACP had five primary agenda items: anti-lynching legislation, voter participation, employment, due process under the law, and education. The NAACP, dedicated to creating an integrated society, has consistently held an interracial leadership and predominantly African American membership (Behring Center, n.d.). They have been at the forefront of every significant civil rights struggle during the 20th century, using legal challenges, boycotts, and demonstration to fight for equal political, economic, and social rights for African Americans (George Washington University, n.d.).
Much of the NAACP’s work targeted national issues, using political action to secure civil rights legislation, public education programs to garner support, and direct action to achieve specific goals. For example, the NAACP helped to inspire President Woodrow Wilson to denounce lynching in 1918. Furthermore, in 1939, the NAACP created the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and independent legal arm of the original NAACP. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund successfully litigated major cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which resulted in school desegregation in 1954, and Morgan v. Virginia, which abolished segregation in interstate travel, setting the stage for the 1961 Freedom Rides (Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.). Thurgood Marshall was the lead attorney for Brown v. Board of Education, and he later was appointed as the first African American in the Supreme Court (Smith, 2016).
In the post-civil rights era, the NAACP continued rigourous lobbying and litigation, supporting the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and amendments to the Fair Housing Act and has worked against the confirmation of conservative judges to the Supreme Court. Throughout the 21st century, the NAACP has additionally focused on substance abuse, teen pregnancy, youth violence, African American economic enterprise, and voter registration campaigns. By 2009, the NAACP had over 500,000 members in 1,700 chapters and 450 college and youth chapters (Moore, 2008).
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For Further Reading:
“How the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Began,” by Mary White Ovington, 1914.
NAACP: Celebrating a Century of 100 Years in Pictures, text by Julian Bond, Roger Wood Wilkins, Mildred Bond Roxborough, and India Artis, 2009. Photographs by NAACP.
“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,” by the Behring Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute
“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Long Struggle for Civil Rights in the United States,” by Susan Bragg
“A Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress,” by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, edited by W. E. B. Du Bois, 1947
Behring Center. (n.d.). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. National Museum of American History. Retrieved from http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/3-organized/naacp.html
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/National-Association-for-the-Advancement-of-Colored-People
Finch, M. (1981). The NAACP: Its fight for justice. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press
George Washington University. (n.d.). National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. Retrieved from https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/naacp.cfm
Moore, J. H. (2008). NAACP. In Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, (Vol. 2, pp. 335-342). New York, NY: Macmilan Publishers
NAACP. (n.d.). Oldest and boldest. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Retrieved from http://www.naacp.org/oldest-and-boldest/
Smith, F. S. (2016). NAACP. In Religion and Politics in America: An Encyclopedia of Church and State in America. (Vol. 2, pp. 497-498). Santa Barba, CA: ABC-CLIO
St. James, W. D. (1958). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: A case study in pressure groups. New York, NY: Exposition Press
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C. A. (2018). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/national-associa…red-people-naacp/
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