National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
By Etta Ward
Graduate Student, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) states its mission as:
The NAACP insures the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority groups and citizens; achieves equality of rights and eliminates race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; removes all barriers of racial discrimination through the democratic processes; seeks to enact and enforce federal, state, and local laws securing civil rights; informs the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and seeks its elimination; educates persons as to their constitutional rights and to take all lawful action in furtherance of these principles. (National Associate for the Advancement of Colored People)
The roots of the NAACP were founded on the premise that all people are created equal. As simple a foundation as this sounds, the effort to fully realize this basic truth was and continues to be one the hardest fought battles in history. The organization, initially called the National Negro Committee, was established in 1909 as a means of peacefully defending civil rights of blacks, primarily through an aggressive watchdog system. All infringements were addressed through political and legal means. (National Associate for the Advancement of Colored People)
Initially formed by a multiracial activist group, the NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909, as a direct response to racial riots in Springfield, IL. During this time, many whites in the Midwest were resentful of the fact that more and more blacks were exiting the southern oppression and moving into their cities, prospering and taking over their jobs—jobs whites were abandoning due to strikes. Ironically, Springfield was the birthplace Abraham Lincoln, who has come to be referred to as our nation’s “Great Emancipator”. (Harris 1992)
The initial membership of the NAACP was comprised of a social cross mix of powerful and determined individuals. These founding members included William English Walling, Mary White Ovington, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Henry Moscowitz, and Oswald Garrison to name a few. From this meager beginning came a legacy of courage, commitment, and resilience that has moved the organization to include a membership of approximately 500,000 members from all races, religions, and political affiliations. In 1911 the organization became incorporated as the nonprofit entity we know today. (Harris 1992)
The NAACP has made an indelible mark on our history in the fight for civil rights. From its inception, the organization has advocated for the fair and equal treatment of African Americans and continues to “tear down the legal and social structure of racial segregation.” (Salamon 2002) The NAACP’s political advocacy has garnered numerous victories such as the passing of anti-lynching laws in some states and the Brown vs. Board of Education case, making education segregation unlawful, and continues to influence the issues of social and racial injustices. The creation of this “indigenous nonprofit organization” (Solomon 528) allowed the founders of the NAACP to begin meeting the specific cultural and socioeconomic needs of the disadvantage, underrepresented, in most cases unrepresented African Americans. The NACCP was, from the onset, able to set in to action strategies to defend the rights of its constituents throughout America and the world. Its success in drawing alliances, both black and white, representing a wide array of social service groups, continues to serve as the bridge to vital resources needed to meet the diverse needs of African Americans.
When the NAACP is not fighting legal battles in the courtroom, it is flexing its legislative muscle by lobbying congress. “In its consistent effort to sway members of Congress, the NAACP has relied upon the normal group techniques: lobbying face-to-face before Congressional committees and individual Congressmen and their staffs, ‘backstopping’ friendly legislators by drafting bills; and building up grassroots support for the group cause.” (Ware 1964, 103) The NAACP’s ability to facilitate the political process needed to impact social reform and change is, to this day, the cornerstone of the civil rights movement’s ability to influence large-scale policy change.
The importance of nonviolent protest sits at the heart of democracy. Protest at the grassroots community level was and continues to be another way for the NAACP to advance its goals and further influence social, economic, and political change. The social bonding that occurs in smaller indigenous groups provides the mobilization needed to increase and leverage social control in areas that matter most to like groups. This can then be transferred to the bridging of diverse groups with like causes.
Today some of the most important contributions the NAACP makes are offered through a variety of programs that help empower African Americans to promote positive change. The organization facilitates change through its activities in research, development, and program implementation. The organization boasts such programs as the Reginald F. Lewis Youth Entrepreneurial Institute, the Veteran’s Assistance Program, the Economic Empowerment Program, and the Voter Empowerment Program.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
The advocacy work done on behalf of African American people was and still is perhaps the most significant philanthropic activity of the NAACP. From inception, the founding members understood the importance of enlisting a highly specialized and educated group of professionals to bring credibility and expertise needed to successfully advocate for a population of people who were, more than likely, unable to effectively articulate their frustrations and to devise a plan to enact change. The early NAACP membership turned out to be a recipe for success, as many of them had the access to major connections and resources needed to move forward with these activities and ultimately fulfill the mission of achieving equal rights and opportunities for every black person. To this day, the NAACP is viewed as a philanthropic success story when it comes to advocacy.
Its lobbying efforts have also impacted the many civil rights milestones the organization has accomplished. The NAACP has and still does, through an aggressive proactive approach, influence public policy. Despite its strong fiscal backing through membership, the NAACP still relies on the mighty force of grassroots-based citizen action to sway legislators. Chapters throughout the country are key in moving this grassroots effort forward. At the core of the grassroots movement is the church. “Intertwined with Judeo-Christian concepts of charity, benevolence, which was at the core to the civil rights, the effective practice of nonviolent protest in the face of savage repression aroused the sympathies of clergymen, politicians, and laypersons like no other American social movement in the twentieth century.” (Friedmann and McGarvie 2003, 349) This nonviolent advocacy approach would prove to be an extremely effective strategy, especially in persuading political officials to act favorably.
The diversity of its alliances represents both a challenge and an opportunity in the effort to address issues of social injustices facing a broader constituency base. On one hand, a united front, under the umbrella of the NAACP, provides the shear force in numbers to aggressively push legislation that benefits the entire group. However, on the other hand, by uniting, certain groups take the risk of loosing the identity associated with their specific and unique case. The lines are blurred from one cause to another, creating tension that stems from a basic territorial instinct. Nonetheless, smaller organizations in particular stand to gain quite significantly when associated with a well-known and historically credible larger umbrella organization such as the NAACP.
Key Related Ideas
The Brown vs. Board of Education is considered one of the defining court cases in the history of the civil rights movement, laying the foundation for eventually ending legalized segregation in the South. In 1951, the NAACP asked, on behalf of the Brown family, to eliminate segregation in the Topeka Public School system. Although the case did not result in an immediate and absolute victory at the time, it did eventually win the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, outlawing segregation and laying the groundwork for school desegregation in certain states throughout America. (Friedmann and McGarvie 2003)
Often used interchangeably with civil rights, civil liberties specifically refer to the “guarantee of freedom, justice, and equality that a state may make to its citizens” (Encarta). The NAACP works to ensure these liberties are afforded to all people, “regardless of race, religion, sex, or other characteristics unrelated to the worth of the individual.” (Encarta)
A series of Civil Rights Acts were passed by Congress in support of efforts to deal with discrimination. The 1860 Act dealt basically with forbidding discrimination due to race. The 1871 Act was enacted to protect blacks from terrorist groups like the Klu Klux Klan. The 1875 Act made it illegal to deny services to blacks or separate them from others in an establishment. The 1957, 1960 and 1964 Acts were put in place to protect the voting rights of blacks. Combating efforts to keep blacks away from the polls, the 1965 Act helped to eliminate the requirement of written and oral exams and the need for character references in the process of voting. (Harris, 1992) All of these Acts, due to the difficulty in enforcement, have served as the impetus behind many of the NAACP’s past and current activities, especially in the effort to diligently protect the voting rights of African Americans and encourage them to participate in the political process.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott marks an important time in the NAACP history. Although it was Rosa Park, an African American seamstress, who sat on the bus and refused to give up her seat, it was the NAACP’s lawsuit that won the Supreme Court decision against racial segregation on transportation systems. (Harris 1992)
The Sit-in Movement was first initiated by four African American students at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, in protest of their not being served at a F.W. Woolworth Company lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. With the blessing of the NAACP and other civil rights groups, the sit-in movement helped to mobilize the nonviolent demonstration efforts of tens of thousands of students, protesting segregation throughout America.
Important People Related to the Topic
- Ida B. Wells Barnett (1862-1931): Primarily known for her anti-lynching and suffrage crusading and advocacy work, Ida B. Wells was one of the founding members of the NAACP. At the young age of fourteen, she began teaching and later taught at Fisk University in Memphis, Tennessee. Wells was also a newspaper editor and journalist, and seized every opportunity to write about and expose the injustices of racism and sexism. She became co-owner of the Memphis Free Speech newspaper and, after marrying lawyer Ferdinand L. Bennett, wrote for the Conservator in Chicago. She began her anti-lynching writings in 1892, after three of her friends were lynched. In 1895, she published Red Record, outlining the atrocities exacted against African Americans. For further information, please see the Ida B. Wells Barnett Learning to Give Briefing Paper.
- W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) DuBois (1868-1963): W.E.B. DuBois, notable writer and political activist, was one of the founding members of the NAACP, where he also founded and served as the editor-in-chief for the Crisis magazine, a publication designed to address civil and human rights issues by educating and reflecting the views of its readers. DuBois also used the magazine to reflect his own provocative ideas. (Rudwick 1958) He was the first African American to receive a PhD from Harvard and he published many research articles on the plight of Blacks in America. After becoming disenchanted with the idea of equality for blacks in America and becoming increasingly supportive of the socialist movement, DuBois, along with his wife, moved to and took up citizenship in Accra, Ghana, where he joined the communist party and soon after died in August of 1963. For further information, please see the W.E.B. DuBois Learning to Give Briefing Paper.
- James W. Johnson (1871-1938): James W. Johnson, along with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, is responsible for creating what has come to be known as the Negro National Hymn. Lift Every Voice was created just to be performed at a 1900 Abraham Lincoln birthday celebration and was sung by five hundred school children in Jacksonville, Florida. To the brothers’ surprise, the song took on a life of its own after that one performance and is still sung today.
- Walter White (1893-1955): Walter White was the Executive Director of the NAACP from 1930 to 1955. An especially significant detail to remember about White is that, because he was very fair-skinned and had blonde hair and blue eyes, he was able to effectively fulfill his first assignment of investigating lynching activities. White was often called a “voluntary Negro.” (Harris 1992)
- Mary White Ovington (1865-1951): Mary Ovington, best known as a social reformist, was one of a handful of white people who drafted the original document, The Call, for a meeting of prominent Americans to come together on the hundredth birthday of Abraham Lincoln to correct the social injustices that many African Americans were encountering. Drawing from her network of powerful and influential African American people, Ovington was instrumental in helping to draw the initial interracial group of sixty people to the 1909 meeting, from which the NAACP was born. In her more than forty-year tenure with the organization, she held a variety of positions, from board member to executive secretary. (Harvard Square Library)
- William English Walling (1877-1936): After witnessing the Springfield, IL riots of 1908, William English Walling wrote an article entitled The Race Wars of the North, calling for "a powerful body of citizens to come to their aid." (Ovington 1914) Soon after, he issued what would be referred to as The Call. By February 12, 1909, Walling had convened some of the most powerful and diverse activists to join efforts to put political pressure on officials to enact laws that would protect the civil and political rights of blacks, and ultimately put an end to the brutality and death that was taking place all too frequently. This activity became the staple of the NAACP, known at that time as the National Negro Committee, an organization whose very existence is the result of his initial call. No one was exempt and non-responsiveness was unacceptable in Walling’s opinion. “Silence under these conditions means tacit approval. The indifference of the North is already responsible for more than one assault upon democracy, and every such attack reacts as unfavorable upon whites as upon blacks.” (Harris 1992, 22)
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- The American Civil Liberties Union is an organization aimed at protecting and preserving certain constitutional rights for a portion of the population that has been historically denied these rights, including such groups as people of color, lesbians, gay men, women, and many others. It is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization with a membership of over 600,000 members and supporters. (http://www.aclu.org)
- The American Association for Affirmative Action works to advance affirmative action, equal opportunity, and to combat discrimination of anyone based on race, gender, or ethnic background in an effort to live and work. It serves as the official watchdog organization to ensure diversity and equity in the workplace. (http://www.affirmativeaction.org/)
- The Congress of Racial Equality is an organization aimed at making equality a reality. This organization, which has affiliations throughout the United States and some parts of the world, works toward realizing its ultimate goal of equality throughout the world. (http://www.core-online.org/)
- The National Urban League is one of the oldest and largest community based civil rights organizations, whose overall mission is to help African Americans gain economic self-sufficiency and a sense of social responsibility. There are over one hundred affiliations located in 35 states and the District of Columbia. (http://www.nul.org/mission.html)
Related Web Sites
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Web site, at http://www.bcri.org/index.html, houses an extensive archive of documents and records that accurately reflect the civil rights movement and the important milestones that helped solidify the important place this movement holds in American history.
Civilrights.org Web site, at http://www.civilrights.org, offers a research center that houses information on the background of the civil rights movement, including famous court cases. It also provides a national directory of civil rights organizations.
The Library of Congress Web site, at http://www.memory.loc.gov, offers a section called The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, in its National Digital Library African American collection.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Web site, at http://www.naacp.org, provides historical and up to date information on all this advocacy organization has done to preserve civil rights, provides a rich historical timeline, and outlines the various programs currently offered to empower African Americans.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
Clegg III, Claude A. “Philanthropy, Civil Rights, and the Politics of Racial Reform.” In Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility—American History edited by Lawrence J. Friedmann and Mark D. McGarvie, 341-361. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN: 052181989X
Harris, Jacqueline L. History and Achievement of the NAACP. New York: Scholastic Library Pub, 1992. ISBN: 0531110354
Harvard Square Library. Notable American Unitarians. Accessed 18 October 2004.
MSN Encarta. Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Accessed 6 October 2004.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. NAACP Mission Statement. Accessed 12 September 2004.
Rudwick, Elliott M. “W.E.B. Du Bois in the Role of Crisis Editor.” The Journal of Negro History 43, 1958: 214-240. In JSTOR [database online]. Accessed 17 September 2004. Available for Indiana University Libraries.
Salamon, Lester M., ed. The State of Nonprofit America. D.C.: Brookings Institute Press, 2002. ISBN: 0815706235
Ware, Gilbert. “Lobbying as a Means of Protest: The NAACP as an Agent of Equality.” The Journal of Negro Education 33, 1964: 103-110. In JSTOR [database online]. Accessed 29 September 2004. Available for Indiana University Libraries.
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