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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.