The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for APUSH
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was a civil rights group founded in 1909. It is America’s largest and most enduring civil rights organization.
The NAACP drew many of its ideals from the earlier Niagara Movement
The NAACP drew many of its ideals from the earlier Niagara Movement, a group that met on the Canadian side of Niaraga Falls in 1905 to put together a list of demands calling for an end to segregation and Jim Crow laws in the United States.
Meeting in Niagra Falls
The spark for the Niagara meeting came after the 1903 publication of The Souls of Black Folk, a work by W.E.B. DuBois who criticized black leadership, Booker T. Washington in particular, for being too accepting of racial discrimination as long as they could gain some economic equality.
Significantly, this group met on Canadian side of the Falls rather than in Buffalo, NY. One story holds that no hotels on the US side of the Falls would allow them to reserve rooms. More likely, the choice was an effort to meet quietly and avoid adverse publicity from those in the black community who felt they were being too aggressive in their demands.
Led by DuBois and William Monroe Trotter, the group drafted a “Declaration of Principles,” calling for an end to racial discrimination in all areas of American life
Led by DuBois and William Monroe Trotter, a Boston publisher, the group drafted a “Declaration of Principles,” calling for an end to racial discrimination in all areas of American life, calling for full enfranchisement, equal job opportunities, fair treatment in the courts, access to higher education, and an end to such Jim Crow outrages as the convict lease system and the bondage caused by sharecropping among for poor blacks living in rural areas.
Supporters of Booker T. Washington, including a number of white moderate activists, denounced the Niagara effort and lobbied against the formation of Niagara chapters in a number of states.
Supporters of Washington, including a number of white moderate activists, denounced the Niagara effort and lobbied against the formation of Niagara chapters in a number of states. Niagara members argued among themselves as well, over such issues as the inclusion of women in the group and what role they should play in national elections.
The Niagara group met for the next several years in spite of the opposition they faced both internally and from those who ironically agreed on the need to address discrimination but felt their tactics were too aggressive. Membership began to drop, and the national organization held their last meeting in 1909.
Forming the NAACP
While the Niagara Movement accomplished little in the way of actual legislation, the group gave voice to grievances that would be addressed more directly by the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909-1910. The spark for the creation of this new organization came in the wake of a deadly race riot in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908.
The irony of a race riot in the city that was home to Abraham Lincoln was not lost on a group of white liberals who decided to take action. Led by suffragist Mary Ovington White, and social organizes Henry Moskowitz and Oswald Garrison Villard, they called on activists of similar mind to a meeting to consider the creation of a new civil rights effort. Of the over 60 people who attended this first meeting, only a handful were African-American, including W.E.B.DuBois, anti-lynching activist Ida Wells-Barnett, and educator Mary Church Terrell.
Among the white leaders invited were lawyer Archibald Grimke, social reformer Florence Kelley, and muckraker Charles Edward Russell. Settlement House leader Lillian Wald opened her Henry Street Settlement in New York City for the group’s initial meeting in May 1909. The NAACP was formally organized the following year and incorporated in 1911. The purpose of the broadly-based group was “To promote the equality of rights and to eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States….” specifically by focusing on suffrage, justice in the courts, education, and equal employment opportunities.
DuBois was the only African-American to hold an early leadership position. He was chosen to edit the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis, which featured African-American literature as well as reporting the organization’s news. The Crisis focused early on anti-lynching efforts, but by the 1920s its literary component expanded. The magazine became identified with the Harlem Renaissance, providing a showcase for writers like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.
DuBois continued to edit the magazine until 1934, adding a children’s section and theater reviews, as well as political commentary. The Crisis continues to be published quarterly and remains the official voice of the NAACP.
National Jewish organizations also played a pivotal role in the initial organization of the NAACP. Dr. Joel Spingarn was an early board chairman, and the NAACP continues to give an annual award to individuals who embody the ideals of the organization with a medal named in his honor.
Working Against Racism
From its first days, the NAACP concentrated on litigation, working to overturn racially biased laws through court challenges. President Woodrow Wilson’s segregation initiatives were an early target. NAACP chapters also protested and boycotted the movie The Birth of a Nation for its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan.
From its first days, the NAACP concentrated on litigation, working to overturn racially biased laws through court challenges. President Woodrow Wilson’s segregation initiatives were an early target.
The group scored an early court victory with Guinn v. United States (1910), which overturned Oklahoma’s use of grandfather clauses to limit black voting. James Weldon Johnson joined the organization as Executive Secretary in 1920 and began a massive membership effort that added over 90,000 members.
In 1930, Walter F. White succeeded Johnson as Executive Secretary, and he oversaw continued growth in membership and an expanded agenda of court cases. White commissioned the Margold Report, authored by Harvard professor and Interior Department lawyer, Nathan Margold. This report spelled out a long term strategy for NAACP court challenges to Jim Crow and segregation.
With these goals in hand, the NAACP launched organized efforts to get anti-lynching legislation through Congress, though they were continually stymied by a bloc of southern white politicians.
With these goals in hand, the NAACP launched organized efforts to get anti-lynching legislation through Congress, though they were continually stymied by a bloc of southern white politicians. They also garnered headlines working on behalf of the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine men falsely accused of rape in Alabama in 1932. The NAACP worked with other civil rights organizations during the Depression and World War II on issues of economic justice as well. They collaborated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations on jobs issues.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, A NAACP national board member, brought pressure on her husband to end federal job discrimination and open opportunities for minorities in the defense industries. President Roosevelt did respond with Executive Order 8802 which created the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) in 1941. While clear victories were few, the NAACP did score a victory in 1944 when the Supreme Court outlawed the white primary, a southern strategy used to limit the rights of black voters.
Thurgood Marshall and Plessy v. Ferguson
Thurgood Marshall joined the NAACP’s legal team fulltime in 1940, and he led the legal challenge to the “separate but equal” dogma laid down by the Supreme Court in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson. A major victory finally came in 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled the Plessy precedent to be unconstitutional in the landmark case Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This ruling began the dismantling of Jim Crow era segregation throughout the country.
A major victory finally came in 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled the Plessy precedent to be unconstitutional in the landmark case Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This ruling began the dismantling of Jim Crow era segregation throughout the country.
Not Everyone was Pleased with the Progress
The NAACP remained committed to its path of desegregation by litigation, though there began to be those who questioned this strategy. Even in the 1940s the NAACP has been seen by some as too slow, too cautious. Philip Randolph organized the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942, calling for more activism, for marches and boycotts. By the 1950s and 1960s, other groups began to challenge the supremacy of the NAACP.
Martin Luther King Jr. formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), with its cohort of student activists in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Both groups called for more action in the streets, often using the media to good effect, and they found broad appeal, especially among young people.
The NAACP was seen by many as plodding, though the organization continued to file effective court challenges.
The NAACP was seen by many as plodding, though the organization continued to file effective court challenges. Their efforts contributed to such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. They worked with other organizations whenever they could. Daisy Bates, a national board member, helped organize the students known as “The Little Rock Nine,” who forced the desegregation of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
NAACP workers supported Freedom Riders in Alabama and Mississippi and collaborated with King’s March on Washington in 1963. Some NAACP leaders faced violent opposition. Harry Moore, a Florida field secretary was murdered in 1951 when his house was fire bombed. In Mississippi 1962, Medgar Evers was assassinated by sniper fire while he stood in his driveway.
The final decades of the twentieth century brought financial and image troubles to the NAACP, as well as contentious arguments over leadership. Despite these internal struggles, the NAACP focused on voter registration, adding over one million African-Americans to the voting rolls for the 2000 presidential election. The organization had a tense relationship with President George W. Bush, due to public criticisms of him made by NAACP leaders. The Internal Revenue Service threatened to revoke the organization’s tax-deferred status. There were also internal disputes over the NAACP’s stand on LGBT rights, with some members favoring more activism and others shying away. When the group finally issued a statement in support of gay marriage in 2012, some members resigned. The NAACP stand remained firm on what they saw as the side of justice.
The NAACP is true to its mission today, working through over 2,200 grass roots chapters, and claiming half a million members worldwide.
The NAACP is true to its mission today, working through over 2,200 grass roots chapters, and claiming half a million members worldwide. The organization continues to file legal challenges to discrimination at all levels of society and remains a vital player in the struggle to achieve equality and civil rights for all Americans.