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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, is one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States. It was founded in 1909 to work on behalf of black people. Members of the NAACP have referred to it as The National Association, confirming NAACP's pre-eminence among organizations active in the Civil Rights Movement since its origins in the first years of the twentieth century; little need was felt to specify which "national association."
The NAACP's headquarters is in Baltimore, Maryland; with additional regional offices in California, New York, Michigan, Missouri, Georgia, Texas, and Maryland. Each regional office is responsible for coordinating the efforts of state conferences in the states included in that region. Local, youth, and college chapters organize activities for individual members.
The NAACP is governed nationally by a 64-member board of directors led by a chairman. The board elects one person as the president and chief executive officer for the organization. After nine years at the helm of the NAACP, former U.S. Congressman Kweisi Mfume resigned at the beginning of 2005, expressing a desire to spend more time with his family. Former NAACP legal counsel Dennis Hayes became acting president and CEO, as the search for Mfume's succesor continued. Civil Rights Movement activist and former U.S. Congressman Julian Bond remained as chairman.
Departments within the NAACP govern areas of action. Local chapters are supported by the Branch and Field Services department and the Youth and College department. The Legal Department focuses on court cases of broad application to minorities, such as systematic discrimination in employment, government, or education. The Washington, D.C. bureau is responsible for lobbying the U.S. Government; and the Education Department works to improve public education at the local, state and federal levels. The goal of the Health Division is to advance healthcare for minorities through public policy initiatives and education.
As of 2004, the NAACP had approximately 500,000 members.
In 1905, a group of 32 prominent, outspoken African-Americans met to discuss the challenges facing "people of color" in the U.S. and possible strategies and solutions. Because hotels in the U.S. were segregated, the men convened, under the leadership of Harvard scholar W.E.B. Dubois, at a hotel situated on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. As a result, the group came to be known as The Niagara Movement. A year later, three whites joined the group: journalist William E. Walling ; social worker Mary White Ovington; and another, Jewish social worker Henry Moscowitz.
The fledgling group struggled for a time with limited resources and decided to broaden its membership in order to increase its scope and effectiveness. Solicitations for support went out to more than 60 prominent Americans of the day and a meeting date was set for February 12, 1909, intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln. While the meeting did not occur until three months later, this date is often cited as the founding date of the organization.
May 30, 1909, the Niagara Movement conference took place at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House , from which an organization of more than 40 individuals emerged calling itself the National Negro Committee. DuBois played a key role in organizing the event and presided over the proceedings. Also in attendance was African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett, co-founder of the NAACP. The organization held its second conference in May 1910, where members chose the name the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The name was formally adopted May 30, and the NAACP incorporated a year later, in 1911. The association's charter delineated its mission:
To promote equality of rights and to eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for the children, employment according to their ability and complete equality before law.
DuBois continued to play a pivotal role in the organization and served as editor of the association's magazine, The Crisis, which had a circulation of over 30,000.
The Jewish community contributed hugely to the NAACP's founding and continued financing. The Jewish historian Howard Sachar writes in his book A History of Jews in America of how "In 1914, Professor Emeritus Joel Spingarn of Columbia University became chairman of the NAACP and recruited for its board such Jewish leaders as Jacob Schiff, Jacob Billikopf, and Rabbi Stephen Wise." 
Fighting Jim Crow
In its early years, the NAACP concentrated on using the courts to overturn the Jim Crow laws that permitted racial discrimination. In 1913, the NAACP organized opposition to President Woodrow Wilson's introduction of racial segregation into federal government policy.
By 1914, the group had 6,000 members and 50 branches, and was influential in winning the right of African-Americans to serve as officers in World War I. Six hundred African-American officers were commissioned and 700,000 registered for the draft. The following year the NAACP organized a nationwide protest against D.W. Griffith's silent film Birth of a Nation, a film that glamorized the Ku Klux Klan.
The NAACP began playing a leading role in lawsuits aimed at racial segregation and other denials of civil rights early in its history. It played a significant part in the challenge to Oklahoma's discriminatory "grandfather" rule that disenfranchised many black citizens. It persuaded the United States Supreme Court to rule in Buchanan v. Warley in 1917 that states cannot officially segregate African-Americans into separate residential districts.
The NAACP devoted much of its energy between the first and second world wars to fighting the lynching of blacks throughout the United States. The organization sent Walter F. White to Phillips County, Arkansas in October, 1919 to investigate the Elaine Race Riot in which more than two hundred black tenant farmers were killed by roving white vigilantes and federal troops after a deputy sheriff's attack on a union meeting of sharecroppers left one white man dead. The NAACP organized the appeals for the twelve men sentenced to death a month later, based on testimony obtained by beating and electric shocks, and obtained a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in Moore v. Dempsey that significantly expanded the federal courts' oversight of the states' criminal justice systems in the years to come.
The NAACP also spent more than a decade seeking federal legislation barring lynching. The organization regularly displayed a black flag stating "A Man Was Lynched Yesterday" from the window of its offices in New York to mark each outrage.
The NAACP led the successful fight, in alliance with the American Federation of Labor to prevent the nomination of John Johnston Parker to the Supreme Court based on his support for denial of the right to vote to blacks and his anti-labor rulings. It organized support for the Scottsboro Boys, although the NAACP lost most of the internecine battles with the Communist Party and the International Labor Defense over the control of those cases and the strategy to be pursued. The organization also brought litigation to challenge the "white primary" system in the South.
The NAACP's legal department, headed by Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, undertook a campaign spanning several decades to bring about the reversal of the separate but equal doctrine announced by the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Beginning by challenging segregation in state professional schools, then attacking Jim Crow at the college level, the campaign culminated in a unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that held that state-sponsored segregation of elementary schools was unconstitutional.
Bolstered by that victory, the NAACP pushed for full desegregation throughout the South. Starting on December 5, 1955, NAACP activists, including E.D. Nixon, its local president, and Rosa Parks, who had served as the chapter's Secretary, helped organize a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest segregation on the city's buses when two-thirds of the riders were black. The boycott lasted 381 days.
The State of Alabama responded by effectively barring the NAACP from operating within its borders for its refusal to divulge a list of its members, out of fear that they would be fired or face violent retaliation for their activities. While the Supreme Court eventually overturned the decision in NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958) the NAACP lost its leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement during those years to organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that relied on direct action and mass mobilization, rather than litigation and legislation to advance the rights of African-Americans. Roy Wilkins, its president at that time, clashed repeatedly with Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders over questions of strategy and prestige within the movement.
At the same time, the NAACP used the Supreme Court's decision in Brown to press for desegregation of schools and public facilities throughout the country. Daisy Bates, president of its Arkansas state chapter, spearheaded the campaign by the Little Rock Nine to integrate the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
By the mid-1960s, the NAACP had regained some of its preeminence in the Civil Rights Movement by pressing for civil rights legislation. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963. Congress passed a civil rights bill aimed at ending racial discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations in 1964, followed by a voting rights act in 1965.
The 1990s: Crisis and restored strength
In the 1990s, the NAACP ran into debt, and the dismissal of two leading officials further added to the picture of an organization in deep crisis.
In a 1993 the NAACP's Board of Directors narrowly selected Reverend Benjamin Chavis over Reverend Jesse Jackson to fill the position of Executive Secretary. A controversial figure, Chavis was ousted eighteen months later by the same board that hired him, accused of using NAACP funds for an out-of-court settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit. 
Following the dismissal of Chavis, Myrlie Evers-Williams narrowly defeated NAACP chairperson William Gibson in 1995, after Gibson was accused of overspending and mismanagement of the organization's funds. In 1996 Congressman Kweisi Mfume a Democratic Congressman from Maryland and former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was named the organization's president. Three years later strained finances forced the organization to drastically cut its staff, from 250 in 1992 to just fifty.
However, in the second half of the 1990s, the organization restored its finances, permitting the NAACP National Voter Fund to launch a major get-out-the-vote offensive in the 2000 U.S. presidential elections. 10.5 million African Americans cast their ballots in the election, one million more than four years before, and the NAACP's effort was credited by observers as playing a significant role in handing Democrat Al Gore several states where the election was close, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.
1909 to 1949
1909: On February 12, the National Negro Committee was formed. Founders included Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villiard, William English Walling.
1910: The NAACP began court fights with the Pink Franklin case. It involved a black farmhand, who unbeknowingly killed a policeman in self-defense when the officer broke into his home at 3 a.m. to arrest him on a civil charge.
1914: Professor Emeritus Joel Spingarn of Columbia University became chairman of the NAACP and recruited for its board such Jewish leaders as Jacob Schiff, Jacob Billikopf, and Rabbi Stephen Wise.
1917: In Buchanan v. Warley, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can not restrict and officially segregate African Americans into residential districts. Also, the NAACP won a battle to enable African-Americans to be commissioned as officers in World War I. Six hundred officers were commissioned, and 700,000 black men registered for the draft.
1918: After pressure by the NAACP, President Woodrow Wilson made a public statement against lynching.
1919: The NAACP sends Walter F. White to Arkansas to investigate the murder of several hundred black tenant farmers in October. The NAACP organizes the appeals on behalf of more than a hundred African-American defendants convicted in mob-dominated judicial proceedings the following month.
1922: The NAACP placed large ads in major newspapers to present the facts about lynching.
1930: The first of successful protests by the NAACP against Supreme Court justice nominees is begun against John Parker, who favored laws that discriminated against African-Americans.
1939: After the Daughters of the American Revolution barred acclaimed soprano Marian Anderson from performing at their Constitution Hall, the NAACP moved her concert to the Lincoln Memorial, where more than 75,000 people attended.
1940: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) was founded.
1941: During World War II, the NAACP led the effort to ensure that President Franklin Roosevelt would order a nondiscrimination policy in war-related industries and federal employment.
1950 to 1990
1954: After years of fighting segregation in public schools, under the leadership of special counsel Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP won Brown v. Board of Education. The decision barred school segregation.
1955: NAACP member and volunteer Rosa Parks is arrested and fined for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This action became a catalyst for the largest grassroots civil rights movement in the U.S. It was spearheaded through the collective efforts of the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other black organizations.
1957: LDF spun off as a separate organization.
1960: In Greensboro, North Carolina, members of the NAACP Youth Council started a series of nonviolent sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. These protests eventually led to more than 60 stores officially desegregating their counters.
1963: The NAACP pushed for passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act .
1964: The U.S. Supreme Court ended the eight-year effort of Alabama officials to ban NAACP activities.
1965: Amidst threats of violence and efforts of state and local governments, the NAACP registered more than 80,000 voters in the South.
1979: The NAACP initiates the first bill ever signed by a governor that allows voter registration in high schools. Soon after, twenty-four states followed suit.
1981: The NAACP led the effort to extend the Voting Rights Act for another twenty-five years. To cultivate economic empowerment, the NAACP established the Fair Share Program with major corporations across the country.
1982: NAACP registered more than 850,000 voters, and through its protests and the support of the Supreme Court, it prevented President Ronald Reagan from giving a tax break to the racially segregated Bob Jones University.
1989: the NAACP held a silent march of more than 100,000 people to protest U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have reversed many of the gains made against discrimination.
1990 and on
1991: When avowed Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke ran for the United States Senate in Louisiana, the NAACP started a voter registration campaign that yielded a 76 percent turnout of black voters to defeat Duke.
1995: Myrlie Evers-Williams , the widow of Medgar Evers, was elected to lead the NAACP's board of directors.
1996: Responding to anti-affirmative action legislation occurring around the country, the NAACP started the Economic Reciprocity Program. Also, in response to increased violence among youth, the NAACP started the "Stop The Violence, Start the Love" campaign.
2000: Accomplishments include television diversity agreements and the largest black voter turnout in 20 years.
2000: On January 17, in Columbia, South Carolina, more than 50,000 people attended a march to protest the flying of the Confederate battle flag. It was the largest civil rights demonstration ever held in the South to date.
Influential court cases
- Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
- Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917)
- McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents , 339 U.S. 637 (1950)
- Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974)
- Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U.S. 86 (1924)
- NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 415 (1958)
- NAACP v. Button , 371 U.S. 449 (1963)
- NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. , 458 U.S. 886 (1982)
- Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948)
- Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944)
- Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971)
- Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950)
Critics and supporters
Some critics of the NAACP, particularly conservatives, complain that the organization takes liberal positions on issues which either have no obvious relationship to the civil rights struggle or minorities, or which they believe to be at odds with the cause of freedom. The NAACP, to take one example, strongly supports stringent gun control laws.
NAACP supporters cite the disproportionate effect of gun violence on minority communities, and believe that the Second Amendment to the Constitution is intended to protect the right of a state to maintain a militia, not unrestricted individual rights to bear arms.
Bush declines to speak to the NAACP
In 2004, President George W. Bush (2001—) became the first sitting U.S. president since Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) not to address the NAACP when he declined an invitation to speak. The White House originally said the president had a scheduling conflict with the NAACP convention, slated for July 10-15, 2004.
However, on July 10, 2004, Bush said he declined the invitation to speak to the NAACP because of harsh statements about him by its leaders. "I would describe my relationship with the current leadership as basically nonexistent. You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me." Bush also mentioned his admiration for some members of the NAACP and said he would seek to work with them "in other ways."
The Internal Revenue Service informed the NAACP in October, 2004 that it was undertaking an investigation into its tax-exempt status, focusing on a speech given by Julian Bond at its 2004 Convention in which he criticized President George W. Bush. The NAACP has denounced the investigation as political retaliation for its get-out-the-vote activities and has refused to supply the IRS with the information concerning its activities it has demanded.
Sources and further reading
- Finch, Minnie. The NAACP: Its Fight for Justice. Scarecrow Press, 1981.
- Harris, Jacqueline L. History and Achievements of the NAACP (The African American Experience). 1992.
- Kellogg, Charles Flint. NAACP: A History of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Johns Hopkins University Press: 1973. ISBN 0801815541.
- Kluger, Richard Simple Justice. Alfred A. Knopf: 1976. ISBN 0394722558.
- Ovington, Mary White, et al. Black and White Sat Down Together: The Reminiscences of an NAACP Founder. Feminist Press: 1995. ISBN 1558610995.
- Pitre, Merline. In Struggle Against Jim Crow: Lulu B. White and the NAACP, 1900-1957. Texas A&M Press: 1999. ISBN 0890968691 .
- St. James, Warren D. NAACP: Triumphs of a Pressure Group, 1909 - 1980. Exposition Press, 1980.
- Tushnet, Mark V. The NAACP's Legal Strategy Against Segregated Education, 1925-1950. UNC Press: 1987. ISBN 0807841730.
- Wedin, Carolyn. Inheritors of the Spirit: Mary White Ovington and the Founding of the NAACP. Wiley Publishers: 1999. ISBN 0471327247.
- Zangrando, Robert L. The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950. Temple University Press: 1980. ISBN 087722174X.
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