NAACP

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Editor: John Hartwell Moore
Date: 2008
Publisher: Macmillan Reference USA
Document Type: Organization overview
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NAACP

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.

RACISM AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

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 NIAGARA MOVEMENT

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 Page 336  |  Top of Articlesymbolic 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.

THE FOUNDING OF THE NAACP

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

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NAACP Pilgrimage to Harpers Ferry, 1932. NAACP Pilgrimage to Harpers Ferry, 1932. After their first meeting, the NAACP held subsequent meetings at the site of John Brown’s raid designed to free enslaved blacks, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

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.

THE EARLY YEARS

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 Page 338  |  Top of Article300 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 LEGAL ADVOCACY STRATEGY

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 Page 339  |  Top of Articlewould 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.

THE TURBULENCE OF THE LATE 1950S AND THE 1960S

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 Page 340  |  Top of ArticleLittle 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 STRUCTURE AND LEADERSHIP OF THE NAACP

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.

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NAACP Leaders, 2006. NAACP Leaders, 2006. NAACP president Bruce Gordon (left) and chariman Julian Bond talk after a news conference at the start of the organization’s 97th annual conference in Washington, D.C. AP IMAGES

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 NAACP IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

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 Page 342  |  Top of Articlewhat 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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2831200275