NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (NAACP)
Since its organization in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been the premier civil rights organization in the United States. It has been in the forefront of numerous successful campaigns on behalf of African-American rights, from the effort to suppress lynching to the long struggle to overturn legal segregation and the still-ongoing effort to secure the implementation of racial justice. The growth and evolution of the NAACP mirrors the growth of African-American political power and the vigorous debates this process engendered.
FOUNDING AND EARLY DAYS
The NAACP owes its origins to the coalescence of two political movements of the early twentieth century. The early years of the century saw the emergence of a group of black intellectuals opposed to the accommodationism of Booker T. Washington. While William Monroe Trotter was the first important figure to break with Washington, he was temperamentally unsuited to the uniting of political forces, and it was W. E. B. Du Bois who soon came to be the most prominent black figure among the anti-Bookerites, as Washington's opponents were called. At the same time there was a revival of political agitation by a small group of white "neo-abolitionists," many of them descended from those who had led the antebellum fight against slavery and who were increasingly distressed by the deterioration in the legal rights and social status of African Americans.
The Niagara Movement, formed by Du Bois, Trotter, and twenty-eight other African-American men at a conference on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in August 1905, was the organized expression of anti-Bookerite sentiment. The movement was forthright in its opposition to Washingtonian accommodationism and in its commitment to civil equality. At a 1906 meeting of the organization at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown's Raid, the organization declared:
We shall not be satisfied with less than full manhood rights … We claim for ourselves every right that belongs to a free-born American — political, civil, and social — and until we get these rights, we shall never cease to protest and assail the ears of America with the story of its shameful deeds toward us.
Despite its oratory, the Niagara Movement was loosely organized and poorly funded and was largely ineffective as a national civil rights organization during its brief history. Weakened by internal controversy and hounded by members of Washington's extensive and effective network in the black community (the "Tuskegee Machine"), the Niagara Movement's existence was tentative and brief. After its dissolution, many of its active members joined the NAACP.
The catalyst for the founding of the NAACP was a violent race riot in 1908 in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's hometown. William English Walling (1877–1936), a white socialist and labor activist, graphically described the violence he had witnessed in an article in The Independent. Walling invoked the spirit of Lincoln and the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy in a call for citizens to come to the assistance of blacks and to fight for racial equality.
Walling's article was read by Mary White Ovington (1865–1951), a white journalist and social worker from a well-to-do abolitionist family who worked and lived in a black tenement in New York, doing research for her landmark sociological work Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York (1911). She responded to his plea and invited Dr. Henry Moskowitz (1879-1936), a labor reformer and social worker among New York immigrants, to join her in meeting with Walling in his New York apartment to discuss the "Negro Question." The three were the principal founders of the NAACP. Two other members of the core group were Charles Edward Russell (1860-1941), another socialist whose father had been the abolitionist editor of a small newspaper in Iowa, and Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949), grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and publisher of the liberal New York Evening Post journal and later the Nation.
Ovington also invited two prominent black New York clergymen, Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a former president of the National Afro-American Council, and the Rev. William Henry Brooks, minister of Mark's Methodist Episcopal Church, to join the continuing discussions. The expanded group agreed to issue a call on February 12, 1909, for a conference in New York.
Written by Villard, the call reflected the Niagara Movement's platform and emphasized protection of the civil and political rights of African Americans guaranteed under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Of the sixty people signing the call, seven were black: Professor William L. Bulkley, a New York school principal; Du Bois; the Rev. Francis J. Grimké of Washington, D.C.; Mary Church Terrell of Washington, D.C.; Dr. J. Milton Waldron of Washington, D.C.; Bishop Walters; and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
The founders' overriding concern was guaranteeing true equality to all citizens. They demanded all rights "which underlie our American institutions and are guaranteed by our Constitution"—legal, educational, and political—as well as an end to all forms of segregation and intimidation. The organization was founded as a small elite group that would rely primarily on agitation and legal battles rather than mass action against racial discrimination.
As a result of the call, the National Negro Conference met at the Charity Organization Hall in New York City on May 31 and June 1, 1909. The conference created the National Negro Committee (also known as the Committee of Forty on Permanent Organization and initially known as the National Committee for the Advancement of the Negro) to develop plans for an effective organization. ThePage 1582 | Top of Article committee's plans were implemented a year later at a second meeting in New York, when the organization's permanent name was adopted. The organization chose to include the phrase "colored people" in its title to emphasize the broad and anti-imperialist concerns of its founders, and not to limit the scope of the organization to the United States. The NAACP's structure and mission inspired the formation of several other civil rights groups, such as South Africa's African National Congress, formed in 1912.
The NAACP's organizers created a formal institutional structure headed by an executive committee composed largely of members of the Committee of Forty. While Du Bois and a handful of other black men, largely moderates, were included, black women—notably Ida B. Wells-Barnett—were excluded from the committee. Kathryn Johnson served as field secretary from 1910 through 1916 (on a volunteer basis for the first four years), becoming the first of many black women to serve in that position; but black women were not offered leadership roles in the NAACP for several decades. Moorfield Storey (1845–1929), a former secretary to antislavery senator Charles Sumner, and one of the country's foremost constitutional lawyers, was named the organization's president. In addition to Storey and Du Bois, the only black and only salaried staffer, its first officers were Walling, chairman; John E. Milholland, treasurer; Villard, assistant treasurer; and Ovington, secretary. In addition to their official positions, Villard and Ovington were the principal organizers, providing direction and ideas. Francis Blascoer served as national secretary (becoming the second salaried staffer) from February 1910 to March 1911, when Ovington resumed the position pro bono for a year. May Childs Nerney took over the position in 1912.
Soon after the 1910 conference, the NAACP established an office at 20 Vesey St. in New York City (it moved to its longtime home of 70 Fifth Ave. a few years later). In its first year, it launched programs to increase job opportunities for blacks, and to obtain greater protection for them in the South by crusading against lynching and other forms of violence.
The organization's most important act that year was hiring Du Bois as director of publications and research. Du Bois's visionary ideas and militant program were his primary contributions to the NAACP. His hiring signaled the final demise of the Niagara Movement; while Du Bois brought its central vision to the new organization, the NAACP had better funding and a much more well-defined structure and program than the Niagara Movement.
In November 1910, Du Bois launched The Crisis as the NAACP's official organ. The Crisis soon became the principal philosophical instrument of the black freedom struggle. From an initial publication of 1,000 copies in November 1910, the magazine's circulation increased to 100,000 a month in 1918. In its pages, Du Bois exposed and protested the scourge of racial oppression in order to educate both his black and white audiences on the nature of the struggle and to instill pride in his people. The Crisis was not only known for political articles; in its pages Du Bois introduced works by African-American writers, poets, and artists.
Following the report of a Committee on Program headed by Villard, the NAACP was incorporated in New York on June 20, 1911. The organizers invested overall control in a board of directors, which replaced the executive committee. Moorfield Storey remained as president, while Villard succeeded Walling as chairman of the board of directors. The chairman of the board, rather than the president, was designated the most powerful officer in the organization, because Storey had a highly successful practice in Boston and was unable to devote much attention to the NAACP.
The executive committee centralized control of the organization in a national body, to which memberships belonged; it decentralized other significant aspects of the organization's work through local groups called vigilance committees, which became its branches. To ensure that the movement spread as quickly as possible, the committee authorized mass meetings in Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
The first local NAACP branch was organized in New York in January 1911. Joel E. Spingarn, former chair of the department of comparative literature at Columbia University, became the branch's first president. His brother Arthur, a lawyer, also became active in the branch. The following year, branches were created in Boston, Baltimore, Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Quincy, Illinois. In 1913, other branch offices were created in Chicago, Kansas City, Tacoma, Washington, and Washington, D.C. Membership in the organization was contingent upon acceptance of NAACP philosophy and programs.
While the local branches were largely staffed by African Americans, the national NAACP was a largely white group during its early days. Whites had the financial resources to devote themselves to NAACP work; throughout the NAACP's early days, all of the board members contributed a considerable amount of time to the organization. Arthur Spingarn, for example, estimated that he devoted "half and probably more" of his time to the NAACP. Also, whites had the education, the administrative experience, and the access to money that were required to build the organization. For example, Villard initially provided office space for the NAACP in his New York Post building. HePage 1583 | Top of Article also gave his personal funds to save the infant organization from imminent collapse. Joel Spingarn paid for his own travel from city to city, soliciting memberships and funds during what were called the New Abolition tours. While he did not make sizable personal contributions to the organization until 1919, Spingarn's knowledge of the management of stocks and bonds also enabled him to direct the organization's financial policies. Furthermore, he donated funds to establish the annual Spingarn Medal, first awarded in 1915, which rapidly became the most prestigious African-American award.
Despite essential contributions of white activists, blacks were increasingly uneasy about white control of an organization that was meant for African Americans. Those differences had surfaced at the founding conference, when Ida B. Wells-Barnett openly expressed concern over the leading roles that whites were playing in the movement. She and William Monroe Trotter shied away from involvement in the new organization because of its domination by whites. Black resentment about white control was manifested in the frequent clashes between Du Bois and Villard, two prickly and irreconcilable personalities.
Du Bois especially resented the intrusion of whites into the editorial affairs of The Crisis, which he maintained as an independent, self-supporting magazine. While it remained part of the NAACP, it had its own staff of eight to ten people (led by business manager Augustus Dill, one of the NAACP's few black staff members). Many whites, including Villard, felt that The Crisis did not report NAACP news sufficiently. They maintained that Du Bois's often acerbic denunciations of whites were inflammatory and said his editorial style was propagandistic and unbalanced, since he refused to cover negative topics, such as black crime.
In 1914, following clashes with Du Bois, Villard resigned as chairman of the board, and Joel Spingarn succeeded him. Even after Villard's departure, the issue of white control continued, and it caused considerable conflict between Du Bois and Spingarn, his long-time friend. Though, as Du Bois admitted, his haughty personality contributed to the problem, he also interpreted his role within a racial context and felt that he could not accept even the appearance of inferiority or subservience to whites without betraying the race ideals for which he stood. Spingarn felt strongly that Du Bois devoted too much time to lecturing and writing at the expense of association work, but he and Ovington sided with Du Bois in board matters. After Ovington, a long-time ally and supporter, became NAACP chair in 1919, she too became a severe critic of Du Bois's refusal to follow board policy, though she accepted his independence in management of The Crisis.
The problem of white domination led to frank discussion about whether whites should continue in top-level positions in the NAACP. While Du Bois challenged any sign of black subordination, he feared that whites would refuse to aid a black-dominated organization and that it would compromise the NAACP's integrationist program. Spingarn and Ovington both acknowledged the difficulties inherent in white leadership, but felt it was a necessary evil until blacks had sufficient resources to run organizations without assistance.
In 1916 Mae Nerney resigned her post as secretary. She recommended that the board choose a black person to succeed her, but the board chose a white man, Roy Nash. It could not, however, escape the pressure to hire another black executive, so it chose James Weldon Johnson, a writer for the New York Age and a highly respected man of letters, as field secretary later that year.
Several events in the NAACP's first years combined to define and unite the fledgling organization. The first was the NAACP's ten-year protest campaign for the withdrawal of the film The Birth of a Nation, beginning in 1915. The film, directed by D. W. Griffith, featured racist portrayals of blacks. The NAACP charged that the film "assassinated" the character of black Americans and undermined the very basis of the struggle for racial equality. The organization arranged pickets of movie theaters and lobbied local governments to ban showings of the film. The NAACP branches succeeded in leading thousands of blacks in protests and forced the withdrawal of the film from several cities and states. The struggle provided important evidence that African Americans would display opposition to racist images and actions.
Upon the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915, the NAACP reached another turning point. With the end of effective opposition by those who preferred accommodation with the South's Jim Crow policies, The Crisis, under Du Bois's leadership, became the leading principal instrument of black opinion. As leadership passed from Washington to the militant "race men" of the North, the NAACP fully established itself as the primary black organization. Consolidating the NAACP's power, in 1916 Du Bois initiated a conference of black leaders, including Washington's men, and their friends. This was the first Amenia conference, which was held at Joel Spingarn's Troutbeck estate at Amenia, north of New York City. The fifty or so participants adopted resolutions that were aimed at breaching the division between the Washington group and the NAACP. The conference participants endorsed all forms of education for African Americans—not just the type of industrial schooling that Washington had advocated; recognized complete political freedom asPage 1584 | Top of Article essential for the development of blacks; agreed that organization and a practical working understanding among race leaders was necessary for development; urged that old controversies, suspicions, and factional alignments be eliminated; and suggested that there was a special need for understanding between leaders in the South and in the North. Du Bois reiterated the African-American demand for full equality and political power.
World War I and related events combined to set the NAACP on its primary mission, a two-pronged legal and political course against racial violence. During the war, Du Bois instituted a controversial policy of black support for American military efforts, with the goal of greater recognition for civil rights afterward. However, the migration of southern blacks to northern urban areas during and after the war led to racial tension, and the clash between increasingly assertive blacks, and whites who refused to countenance changes in the racial status quo, led to violent riots, particularly during the postwar Red Summer of 1919.
Security of person was the most pressing problem that blacks faced, since the taking of a person's life by mob action violated the most basic constitutional right. At first, the NAACP's primary strategy against lynching involved a publicity campaign backed by pamphlets, in-depth studies, and other educational activities to mobilize public support for ending the crime. From its earliest years, the NAACP devoted most of its resources to seeking an end to lynchings and other forms of mob violence; the organization's protest campaign after a lynching in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 1911 resulted in its first substantial publicity. In 1917 it led the celebrated silent protest parade of 15,000 people through Harlem with muffled drums to protest the violent riots that year against blacks in East St. Louis, Illinois, and discrimination in general.
The strengthening of the branch structure heightened NAACP influence. As field secretary, James Weldon Johnson was charged with organizing branches, which carried out most of the organization's protest activity. Johnson's most immediate challenge was to increase significantly the number of NAACP branches in the South, a mission that exposed him to the dangers of Jim Crow in the region. Johnson began by organizing a branch in Richmond, Virginia, in 1917. Initially, his progress was slow, but by the end of 1919, the NAACP had 310 branches, including 31 in the South. The Atlanta branch, founded in late 1916, had become one of the organization's strongest, with a membership of more than 1,000. The NAACP's total membership jumped from 9,282 in 1917 to 91,203 in 1919.
In 1921 Johnson became NAACP secretary, establishing the permanent line of blacks to hold the position. Johnson's assumption of this power reflected the clearer administrative lines that were developing within the NAACP, and signaled the rising influence of paid African-American staff members within the organization. Johnson's predecessor, John Shillady, hired in 1918, had served as the first professional secretary. Shillady assumed responsibility for fund-raising, coordinating the branches, and developing the strategy for implementing the organization's programs. Johnson worked even harder to further the organization's goals. The NAACP strengthened its executive staff in 1922 when it hired Herbert J. Seligman as its first full-time director of publicity. Johnson was succeeded as field secretary by Dr. William A. Pickens, who later served as director of branches until 1942.
THE "NEW NEGRO" ERA
Despite its promising beginnings, by 1919 it was clear that the NAACP's reliance on agitation and education had proved largely ineffective against racial violence. The most promising avenue of redress was by political challenge. Walter White, a young insurance salesman from Atlanta whom Johnson met during an organizing trip, and who joined the national staff in 1918, was named assistant secretary with responsibility for investigating lynchings. White's effectiveness with this mission—in part because as a very light-skinned African American he could blend into white mobs—won him national respect.
In 1919, the NAACP published its report Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918. The book provided documentation for the campaign against the crime that White was leading. A resurgence of violence helped the NAACP to get the Republican party during the 1920 campaign to urge Congress "to consider the most effective means to end lynching." Two years later, through Johnson's extraordinary effort, the House passed an antilynching bill introduced by Congressman L. C. Dyer of Missouri, but Southerners in the Senate killed the Dyer Bill with a filibuster.
Even though Congress failed to pass antilynching legislation during the Coolidge and Hoover administrations, the Republican party's repeated pledge in 1924 to seek such a law was a strong indication that the NAACP's political emphasis held considerable promise. During the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt the NAACP continued pressing for the passage of antilynching laws in Congress. Two more bills were introduced in this period, but one died in the House of Representatives and the other in the Senate. Congress never passed an antilynching law, but the NAACP eventually helped end the crime through publicity.
Led by Du Bois, the NAACP continued to extend its influence abroad. In 1919, with NAACP support, Du Bois organized the first of a series of Pan-African Congresses in Paris, as the most effective means for demanding the removal of colonial shackles in Africa, India, the West Indies, and all other such territories. The following year, the NAACP expanded its international program by sending Johnson to Haiti to investigate the U.S. occupation of the country. After spending six weeks there, Johnson conducted an extensive campaign in the United States to get both the president and Congress to take action to protect the sovereignty of Haiti and the rights of its citizens. Although his effort was not immediately fruitful, Johnson brought to national attention the occupation and the discriminatory treatment of persons of African descent by American troops in Haiti.
Despite its preeminent position in the black community, the NAACP was not without its critics during the 1920s. Proponents of radical protest, such as A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen of the journal The Messenger criticized the NAACP for excessive emphasis on legalism, claiming the organization should support self-defense efforts against racial violence. Furthermore, the NAACP engaged in a strong rivalry with Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. Garvey scorned the NAACP's interracial, integrationist philosophy and its predominantly light-skinned, middle-class black leadership. The NAACP, meanwhile, opposed Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement as chauvinist and overly visionary and because it rejected integration and espoused separatism. Du Bois called Garvey "the most dangerous man in America," while Robert Bagnall, the NAACP's director of branches, said that Garvey was "insane" and collaborated with United States government officials in their successful attempt to deport Garvey.
Under James Weldon Johnson's leadership, the NAACP became a recognized power in the United States during the 1920s. In 1930 Johnson, who had taken a year's leave of absence to devote his time to creative writing, retired from the NAACP, and Walter White was appointed secretary. White, in turn, hired Roy Wilkins, a former managing editor of the Kansas City Call, as his assistant.
The NAACP began the 1930s with 325 branches, which were located in every state of the Union except Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, and North Dakota. The association's branch work was now directed by two field secretaries, Dr. William Pickens and Daisy E. Lampkin. The branches served as information bureaus for the national office and stimulated the cultural life of African Americans. In addition to the field staff, the national officers visited them regularly, led conferences, did intense organizational work, and solicited financial support as well as regular and life memberships. The broad organizational independence of the branches enabled them to put together actions, such as mass demonstrations, that differed strongly from national office policy.
The NAACP's influence was demonstrated by Walter White's successful campaign in 1930 to defeat President Herbert Hoover's nomination of Judge John J. Parker to the U.S. Supreme Court. Parker was from North Carolina and had previously, as a gubernatorial candidate, spoken against black suffrage. While he had opposition from labor unions and other groups, the NAACP was effective in forming coalitions and lobbying senators against Parker's confirmation. Parker's defeat, after a close vote, was a dramatic accomplishment for the NAACP, and widespread denunciation of the organization by white Southerners after the battle reinforced its stature as a formidable political force.
THE NAACP LEGAL CAMPAIGN
Well before it had launched its political efforts, the NAACP had begun using the courts to improve the status of blacks. The scarcity of good black lawyers during the organization's early years made it crucial for whites to dedicate their services to the organization. The NAACP engaged lawyers to conduct its legal work as the need arose and when funds permitted. Because of this inability to fund a legal program, Arthur Spingarn and his law partner Charles H. Studin, along with Moorfield Storey, volunteered their legal services. Arthur Spingarn assumed leadership of this program in 1929.
The NAACP's first significant court action was the legal struggle to save the life of Pink Franklin, an illiterate farmhand in South Carolina, which led the NAACP to establish a legal redress department in 1910. Franklin had been sentenced to death for killing a law officer attempting to arrest him for leaving his employer after he had received advances on his wages. This case was noteworthy because it forced the U.S. Supreme Court, which for some time had been evading all questions relating to the citizenship rights of African Americans, to rule on whether serfdom could be legally established in the country. While the Court affirmed the decision of the lower courts, the NAACP got the South Carolina governor to commute Franklin's sentence to life imprisonment.
An important victory came in 1915, when Storey wrote an amicus curiae brief of the NAACP in Guinn v. United States, challenging the constitutionality of the Oklahoma "grandfather clause." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the clause violated the Fifteenth Amendment,Page 1586 | Top of Article giving the NAACP its first legal victory and incentive to seek further redress of civil rights cases.
Through the early part of the century, the NAACP won other significant cases. In 1917 the NAACP struck a strong, though not final, blow against residential segregation when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Buchanan v. Warley that the Louisville, Kentucky, residential segregation ordinance was unconstitutional. The case resulted in the striking down of mandatory housing segregation in Norfolk, Baltimore, St. Louis, and other cities. In 1919, the NAACP conducted an investigation of the convictions of twelve black Elaine, Arkansas, farmers arrested during a riot in 1919 and sentenced to death, and took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court threw out the convictions in Moore v. Dempsey (1923), ruling that the trial had been dominated by a mob atmosphere. In 1935, in the Court's ruling in Hollins v. Oklahoma, the NAACP won the reversal of two death penalty convictions due to racial discrimination in jury selection.
Aside from opposition to lynching, the NAACP's primary fight in the 1920s continued to be against racial injustices in the courts, and it handled hundreds of civil rights cases. It considered its task of educating the public, both white and black, about racial wrongs to be an even greater challenge than resolving specific problems. Thus, it had two criteria for accepting a case: first, whether it involved discrimination and injustice based on race or color; second, whether it would establish a precedent for protecting the rights of African Americans as a group. The case of Dr. Ossian Sweet of Detroit met those criteria. In 1925, Sweet moved his family into a house he had purchased in a middle-class white neighborhood. The house was surrounded by a white mob. Sweet shot at the mob in self-defense, and killed one of its members. The NAACP hired Clarence Darrow, the greatest trial lawyer of the day, and he successfully defended Sweet.
One notable area of NAACP interest was the "White Primary," which effectively disfranchised southern blacks. In 1927, the Supreme Court declared in a unanimous decision in Nixon v. Herndon that a Texas state primary law that excluded blacks from voting was unconstitutional. Soon afterward, a special session of the Texas legislature passed a new statute authorizing the Democratic state committee to make its own decisions on the eligibility of voters in party primaries. The NAACP appealed, and in 1932 the Supreme Court ruled in Nixon v. Condon that the Fourteenth Amendment forbade such distinctions. (Despite NAACP efforts, however, in 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Grovey v. Townshend that a party was a private body and could exclude blacks from primary elections; the white primary was finally struck down in 1944.)
Such victories led the NAACP to declare after 1932 that "for the present, the avenue of affirmation and defense of the Negro's fundamental rights in America lies through the courts." Those, of course, were the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts, which the NAACP regarded as bulwarks in this struggle, because at that level "the atmosphere of sectional prejudice is notably absent." Its legal victories, it concluded, were "clear-cut" and "matters of prominent record."
In 1929, Arthur Spingarn organized the NAACP legal committee, and served as its chair until 1939, when he succeeded his deceased brother Joel as president of the NAACP. The first members of the legal committee included the distinguished labor lawyer Clarence Darrow, Harvard law professor and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter; liberal Michigan governor and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Frank Murphy; and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Arthur Garfield Hays.
Darrow and Hays represented the NAACP in the Sweet case, as well as the Scottsboro case, which involved nine young black men who were convicted of raping two white women on a train passing through Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931. Eight of the Scottsboro defendants were sentenced to death. The NAACP, which lacked a regular legal department, was unable to move quickly into action, and the International Labor Defense, closely allied with the Communist Party, took control of the case. In 1933 the NAACP, spurred by black community criticism of its inaction on the famous case, formed the Scottsboro Defense Committee in an uneasy alliance with the International Labor Defense. After a series of protracted legal battles, the defendants' lives were saved. (The ILD abandoned the case after it lost publicity value. On November 29, 1976, the NAACP finally won freedom for Clarence Norris, the last of the Scottsboro nine, when the Alabama Board for Pardons and Paroles pardoned him.)
THE NAACP IN THE DEPRESSION
The frustrations of the Scottsboro case were the beginning of a contentious and difficult period for the NAACP. The collapse of the national economy in 1929 brought disproportionate hardship to African Americans. Many blacks hailed the New Deal's programs for economic recovery in the hope that minimum wage, maximum working hours, and other such reforms would benefit blacks. However, early New Deal programs were unable to alter the low social and economic status of the African-American masses; in some cases these worsened their situation. Bitterly disappointed, many intellectuals were attracted by Marxism and other radical philosophies. The communist party and allied groups such as the League of Struggle for NegroPage 1587 | Top of Article Rights presented themselves in black areas as rivals to the NAACP, whose reformist stance they sought to discredit as inadequate for addressing the economic injustice African Americans were suffering.
Similarly, the Great Depression brought sharp criticisms of the NAACP by a generation of younger intellectuals, and pressure on the organization to make radical shifts in its strategies and programs to meet the needs of impoverished blacks. One of the severest critics was Ralph Bunche, a political scientist at Howard University. Bunche maintained that the NAACP's program of political and civil liberties was doomed to failure unless there was an improvement in the economic condition of the black masses. Bunche was also uncomfortable with having whites in policy-making positions in the NAACP, maintaining that its interracial structure was "an undoubted source of organizational weakness." He felt that the "white sympathizers were in the main either cautious liberals or mawkish, missionary-minded sentimentalists on the race question."
Another important critic was Dr. Abram L. Harris, a Howard University economics professor and member of the NAACP board of directors. Harris insisted that the NAACP launch a more vigorous attack on fundamental economic problems and that the masses of African Americans organized in the local branches play a more significant role in the organization's work. He and Bunche advocated efforts by the NAACP to reach out to white labor unions and secure greater union affiliation for black workers.
The organization did respond to economic discrimination during the early 1930s. For example, in 1931, Helen Boardman, a white NAACP investigator, reported that the 30,000 blacks on the War Department's Mississippi Flood Control project were receiving 10 cents an hour for an 84-hour week. In 1933, Roy Wilkins and George S. Schuyler, a former Socialist and writer for the Messenger, disguised themselves as laborers in order to investigate the deplorable, peonage-like conditions under which blacks on the project were working. White officials discovered their identities, and both men barely escaped with their lives. The Wilkins and Schuyler investigations enabled the NAACP to get the Secretary of War to quadruple the hourly pay for unskilled laborers and shorten their work week to thirty hours.
Nevertheless, while the NAACP leaders did not share Bunche's view of the futility of legal efforts, some staffers, notably Du Bois, felt that the NAACP lacked a clear sense of direction. The criticisms convinced younger staffers such as Wilkins that "among the liberals and radicals, both Negro and white, the impression prevails that the Association is weak because it has no economic program and no economic philosophy."
In the face of the criticisms, in August 1933 the NAACP held a Second Amenia Conference. This time whites were barred from the assemblage on Joel Spingarn's estate. Among the delegates were several young leaders who would later achieve distinction. Notable were Bunche and Harris; sociologists E. Franklin Frazier and Ira De A. Reid; attorney Louis Redding; Sterling A. Brown, a literary critic and poet; and Juanita Jackson, who with her mother Lillie Mae Jackson in 1935 would begin leading the NAACP struggle to desegregate their home state of Maryland. The major emphasis at the conference was on economics and the need for power among blacks that could make the government more responsive to the demands of their community. The participants were upset by the national NAACP's reluctance to launch a mass movement, in contrast to the efforts of branches such as Baltimore.
There was general agreement on the need for the NAACP to develop the type of comprehensive economic program that the Amenia Conference delegates demanded. Not everyone within the organization, however, subscribed to the young activists' focus on race pride; neither did they initially support their call for greater solidarity between the black and white working class. Walter White, for one, had grave reservations about moving toward a more "mass-oriented" program and felt that many of his colleagues were being "stampeded by temporary or emotional situations and conditions." Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the conference and significant prodding by Joel Spingarn, the NAACP created a Committee on Future Plan and Program in 1935 to consider the concerns raised by the Amenia Conference. The members of the committee were Harris, chairman; Rachel Davis Du Bois; Dr. Louis T. Wright; James Weldon Johnson; Sterling Brown; and Mary White Ovington, who had resigned from the board in 1931 following disagreements with White. The committee reinforced the priority of economic concerns and urged solidarity between black and white workers. It forced the organization to declare that its interests were "inextricably intertwined with those of white workers." The importance of this emphasis was realized with the subsequent creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) which, unlike the American Federation of Labor (AFL), opened its ranks to black workers, and which was closely allied with the NAACP.
White made some modifications in the NAACP's programs to accommodate the economic concerns and activism of the young militants in the late 1930s. For example, the NAACP was one of the twenty-four civil rights and religious organizations supporting the Joint Committee onPage 1588 | Top of Article National Recovery, a Washington-based economic lobbying and information group founded by Robert C. Weaver and John P. Davis in 1935. Also, the NAACP negotiated with leaders of the CIO on behalf of black automobile workers in Detroit. However, White redoubled the organization's efforts in its traditional areas of education, agitation, and court litigation. More than ever, court action defined the NAACP's identity, while direct action was left to small groups such as the National Negro Congress and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded in 1942.
As disquieting as most of the criticisms from young radicals were for White, none created anything as near a schism as those offered by Du Bois. He too had grown impatient with the pace of the NAACP's achievements. Openly challenging White and the NAACP, he shifted from his long-held position of urging integration, because that was not achieving racial equality fast enough, and promoted independent black economic development. (One possible factor in Du Bois's 180-degree shift in position from emphasis on integration to tactical segregation was his deep, personal differences with White). Du Bois's stand made his departure from The Crisis and the NAACP board inevitable, and he resigned in 1934. Wilkins, in addition to being in charge of the organization's administration, succeeded him as editor of The Crisis.
Another significant development was the revamping of the NAACP hierarchy. More and more, the paid staff exercised control of the organization. In effect, White made the executive secretary the association's chief executive officer as well as its chief spokesperson. White was able to effect such changes because the bulk of the organization's strength and finances now came from its vastly expanded branch structure. Despite the severe hardships of the Depression, the branches in 1936 contributed $26,288 toward the total income of $47,724. Most of the remaining income came from contributions, as well as a life membership program that was created in 1927. This pattern of support had been established from around 1920. Between that year and 1931, the NAACP raised $545,407 in general funds, of which $374,896 came from the branches.
The board, as a result, underwent a shift in direction. In 1934, Dr. Louis T. Wright, a physician and Fellow in the American College of Surgeons, was elected as the first in the permanent line of blacks to be chair of the NAACP board. As Charles Hamilton Houston, who was chair of the board revision committee explained, among other things, the changes made the board more representative of the organization's membership. Previously, he said, board meetings were "in substance executive committee meetings." He added, "I favor calling a spade by its name. The board meetings would deal with policies rather than details." While whites remained on the board in diminishing numbers, by mid-1936 the NAACP's organizational revolution was so stark that the NAACP no longer depended on whites for administrative expertise or for the bulk of its fiscal support. Mary White Ovington complained that the board of directors had adopted "the rubber stamp attitude" in sanctioning the staff's actions. She was especially unhappy with Walter White, whom she lamented was virtually "the dictator" of the organization. She complained that the board's discussions had little effect on its actual programs and policies.
Throughout the late 1930s, much of the NAACP's activism was organized by individual branches. For example, in Baltimore, Boston, and elsewhere, NAACP Youth Council leaders formed "don't-buy-where-you-can't-work" boycotts and pickets to protest job discrimination in stores located in black communities. In New Orleans, the NAACP paid residents' poll taxes to fight voting restrictions. In Kansas City, an NAACP-led protest campaign desegregated municipal golf courses. In New York, NAACP officials joined a committee to improve conditions in Harlem after a riot broke out in 1935.
The national NAACP also engaged in several campaigns during the 1930s, lobbying Congress for antilynching legislation and struggling against discrimination in New Deal programs. One important NAACP action was its protest against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The organization collected donations for war relief, sent official protests to the League of Nations and U.S. State Department, and lobbied against pro-Italian amendments in the 1935 Neutrality Act. Another important struggle dealt with media stereotypes. NAACP representatives met with newspaper editors to persuade them to offer positive coverage of African Americans and to cease the practice of discussing the race of alleged criminals. The NAACP also launched a campaign to end stereotypes in Hollywood films and radio programs, notably the popular radio series Amos 'n' Andy, which the organization claimed presented demeaning stereotypes of blacks. NAACP lobbying helped secure the signing of black performers such as Lena Horne to film studio contracts.
THE LEGAL ASSAULT ON SEGREGATION
To end its dependence on volunteer lawyers, which had proved a large handicap in the Scottsboro case, as well as to wage an all-out fight against segregation, the NAACP in 1935 created its legal department. The creation of the NAACP legal department resulted from a comprehensive study of the association's legal program that Nathan Ross Margold, a white public service lawyer in New York, conducted in 1930 under a grant from the American Fund for
Public Service (later the Garland Fund). Margold suggested that the NAACP "strike directly at the most prolific sources of discrimination" by boldly challenging "the constitutional validity of segregation if and when accompanied irremediably by discrimination." He recommended, furthermore, that the NAACP focus on the glaring disparities between white and black schools.
The NAACP hired Charles H. Houston, the highly respected dean of Howard University School of Law, as its first special counsel. Walter White was responsible for bringing Houston into the NAACP. White had become very impressed with Houston's brilliant defense in 1932 of George Crawford, an African American who was accused of murdering two white women in Virginia. Although a jury convicted Crawford and he was sentenced to life in prison, Houston saved him from the death penalty.
Houston diverged from the Margold report by attacking the unequal financial support of black schools in the South. His strategy was to force the states either to strengthen black institutions or to abandon them because it was too expensive to maintain the avowed "separate but equal" practice. In order to accumulate evidence of unequal funding, Houston and his protegé, Thurgood Marshall, toured the South, investigating conditions. Houston also laid the foundations of the NAACP's successful strategyPage 1590 | Top of Article of sociological jurisprudence in the subsequent direct attack on segregation.
Houston's first line of attack was graduate and professional schools. He successfully tested this strategy in the Maryland Supreme Court case Murray v. Maryland in 1935, the first of a series of challenges that would lead to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Houston left the NAACP in 1938 to return to private law practice in Washington, and was succeeded by Marshall, a graduate of Howard University Law School who had been working with the Baltimore NAACP branch.
Continuing to attack racial inequalities in education, the NAACP filed its first teacher's discrimination pay case in behalf of William Gibbs against the Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland. The county was paying Gibbs $612 a year, whereas a white school principal with comparable qualifications was receiving $1,475. In 1938 the court ordered the county to equalize teachers' salaries, setting a precedent for similar NAACP challenges in other parts of the country. The same year, the NAACP won in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said in the Supreme Court's majority opinion that Missouri's offer of tuition aid to Lloyd Gaines to attend an out-of-state university law school did not constitute equal treatment under the Constitution. In 1939, William H. Hastie, a black scholar and federal judge, succeeded Arthur Spingarn as chair of the NAACP Legal Committee. Soon after, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was incorporated to receive tax deductible contributions for those areas of the NAACP's work that met the Internal Revenue Service's guidelines. The LDF, dubbed the "Inc. Fund" and headed by Thurgood Marshall, was tied to the parent NAACP by interlocking boards.
As in the earlier years, the NAACP's cases covered four major areas: disfranchisement, segregation ordinances, restrictive covenants and due process, and equal protection for blacks accused of crimes. Among the fundamental victories won before the Supreme Court were Smith v. Allwright (1944), in which the all-white Texas Democratic primary was declared unconstitutional; Morgan v. Virginia (1946), in which it was declared that state laws requiring segregated travel could not be enforced in interstate travel; and Shelley v. Kraemer and McGhee v. Sipes (1948), in which it was declared that restrictive housing covenants could not be legally enforced. (Two other cases, Hurd v. Hodge and Urciolo v. Hodge, were argued with the Kraemer and McGhee cases.)
WORLD WAR II AND POSTWAR PERIODS
The NAACP's legal campaign during the 1940s was reinforced by its efforts at education and lobbying. During World War II, the NAACP made an enormous effort to secure equal treatment for blacks in the military and in war industries. For example, NAACP officials lobbied successfully for a Navy officer training program for African Americans, and investigated reports of discrimination against black GIs; Walter White personally conducted investigations of discrimination complaints in the European and Pacific theaters. White also championed A. Philip Randolph's 1941 March on Washington movement and was an adviser in the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). In 1942, NAACP investigators reported on living and working conditions in overcrowded cities, although they were largely ignored. After rioting broke out in Detroit and New York's Harlem in 1943, the NAACP backed interracial committee efforts. In 1944, the NAACP organized a Wartime Conference, in which it recorded its "special stake in the abolition of imperialism," due to the preponderance of people of color in colonized nations. With the aid of such staffers as Ella Baker, director of branches from 1943 through 1946, the NAACP grew from 355 branches and 50,556 members in 1940 to 1,073 branches and some 450,000 members by 1946.
After the end of the war, the NAACP redoubled its efforts to pass antilynching legislation. In the face of rising racial violence, such as an antiblack riot in Columbia, Tennessee, the NAACP called for federal civil rights protection. In 1946, Walter White organized a National Emergency Committee against Mob Violence, and met with President Harry Truman to demand action. In 1947, the NAACP provided financial and logistical support for CORE's Journey of Reconciliation, a series of interracial bus rides to challenge discrimination in interstate travel. Clarence Mitchell Jr., director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau, led the fight for a permanent FEPC, which was realized in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
An important factor in NAACP progress was the unprecedented support for civil rights shown by President Harry Truman. In fall 1946, in response to demands from the NAACP for presidential leadership on civil rights, Truman appointed the President's Committee on Civil Rights and made Walter White a key adviser to it. The committee's 1947 Report To Secure These Rights further sharpened the focus of the struggle to destroy segregation and grant full equality to African Americans. It closely followed NAACP recommendations for government action against segregation. In 1947 Truman became the first presidentPage 1591 | Top of Article to attend an NAACP convention when he addressed the organization's thirty-eighth annual convention in Washington.
In 1948, following NAACP pressure, President Truman issued an executive order barring segregation in the armed forces. The NAACP fought over the next years to implement the mandate. This fight was led by Thurgood Marshall, who conducted studies on the progress of military integration during the Korean War; and by Clarence Mitchell, who led the struggle in Washington to get President Eisenhower and the Defense Department to end all forms of segregation at military establishments in the United States and elsewhere.
During the late 1940s, the NAACP considerably strengthened its antidiscrimination programs and strategies. But with the rise of the Cold War and concerns over communism, the NAACP feared that it, too, would become a target for red baiting. To preserve its integrity, the NAACP adopted a strict anticommunist membership policy and avoided any association with the Communist Party. The NAACP, furthermore, strongly opposed loyalty probes among government workers, fully realized that such investigations would make African Americans scapegoats purely on the basis of race. The organization scored a significant victory in this struggle when Frank Barnes, president of the NAACP's Santa Monica branch, was reinstated in his post office job as a result of the NAACP's intensive campaign to clear his name of charges of disloyalty to the United States.
At the same time, the NAACP directed worldwide attention to the problem of colonialism by sending Walter White and W. E. B. Du Bois as its representatives in 1945 to the founding United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. In 1947 Du Bois dramatically reinforced the NAACP's anticolonial program by presenting to the UN "An Appeal to the World," a 155-page petition composed of five chapters that linked the plight of Africans and other subjects of colonial imperialism with that of African Americans in the United States. The drafting committee of the UN Human Rights Commission debated the petition for two days at a meeting in Geneva.
In 1948 the NAACP continued to express its views on human rights, genocide, and colonialism at the Paris session of the UN General Assembly. That year, the NAACP welcomed the General Assembly's adoption of a Declaration of Human Rights and a Genocide Convention, and regretted that the colonial issue was not promptly settled. The NAACP won considerable support from other nongovernmental agencies for its demand that all colonial territories be placed under UN trusteeship and administered in a manner that would encourage development of indigenous populations. It strongly opposed attempts to return Somaliland and Eritrea, former colonies in Africa, to Italy or to turn them over to any other nation for administration.
Despite Du Bois's continuing contributions to the NAACP in raising world concern over the plight of the darker races in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, strong differences in 1948, caused by his inability to work with Walter White and resulting refusal to follow the organization's administrative procedures, led the NAACP board of directors to refuse to renew his contract. Thus, even though upon Du Bois's return in 1944 as director of special research he remained the symbol of NAACP history, he again left the organization in 1948.
In 1949, Roy Wilkins wrote an editorial in The Crisis strongly attacking black activist Paul Robeson, who was accused of pro-Soviet sentiments. In 1950, the NAACP organized a National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization in Washington to demand passage of civil rights laws. Led by Roy Wilkins, a group of 4,000 delegates representing 100 organizations met with Truman to enlist his support for the struggle in Congress. The mobilization, culminating a decade of NAACP efforts to get Congress to pass fair employment practice and other civil rights laws, signaled the birth of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR).
The core of the NAACP's struggle for the passage of antiviolence and other civil rights laws was waged through its Washington bureau, which was created in 1942, as well as its branches. In addition to being executive secretary, Walter White served as the bureau's first director from its creation until 1950, when he relinquished the position to Clarence Mitchell, who also served as legislative chair of the LCCR. Mitchell's function in developing the organization's political strategy and legislative program was similar to Thurgood Marshall's in the legal area. Both men served in positions that were a notch under the executive secretary.
The most important element in the civil rights struggle, nevertheless, was the NAACP's branches, which provided essential grassroots support and lobbying clout. In 1951, the association had 1,253 branches, youth councils, and college chapters, and a membership of 210,000 which for the first time since 1947 represented an encouraging increase. An indication of the NAACP's strength was that in 1950, for the first time in its history, it held its annual conference in the Deep South in Atlanta. There, 7,500 blacks and whites packed the municipal auditorium to hear Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ralph Bunche, the NAACP's onetime critic. Bunche, by then an NAACP
board member, assailed the "tyranny of the segregation laws of the South" and the failure of Congress to pass civil rights legislation.
Since Southerners in Congress continued to block passage of civil rights laws, the best promise of success lay with the courts, as the NAACP had determined earlier. In 1950, the Supreme Court took decisive steps in two cases brought by the NAACP toward ending the "separate but equal" doctrine. In the first case, Sweatt v. Painter, the Court ruled that the separate black law school the state of Texas had established to accommodate Heman Sweatt was not and could not be equal to that provided for white students at the University of Texas. In the second case, McLaurin v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the University of Oklahoma could not segregate G. W. McLaurin within its graduate school once he had been admitted.
Encouraged by the decisions in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma, the NAACP in 1951 launched a well-planned "Equality Under Law" campaign to overturn racial separation at its roots — in elementary and secondary schools. This drive was launched with the filing of lawsuits against school districts in Atlanta; Clarendon County, South Carolina; Topeka, Kansas; and Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1953, Dr. Channing H. Tobias, the newly elected chair of the NAACP board of directors, launched a "Fight for Freedom Fund" campaign and a goal of "Free by '63." This slogan was designed to mobilize all of the organization's resources for what the NAACP saw as the final phase of the struggle to eliminate all state-imposed discrimination in celebration of the centennial of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Reinforcing the climate of great anticipation within the civil rights community, President Eisenhower on May 10 addressed the NAACP's "FreedomPage 1593 | Top of Article Fulfillment" conference in Washington. He pledged that wherever the federal authority extended he would do his utmost to bring about racial equality. With help from the fund-raising campaign, the NAACP's membership grew to 240,000 by 1954.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling in the four school desegregation cases that the NAACP had initiated, plus another case challenging segregation in the District of Columbia. Reasserting the full meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, the court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Shortly thereafter, the NAACP won another historic victory, when the Department of Defense reported that as of August 31, 1954, there were "no longer any all-Negro units in the services."
Less than a year after he had led the celebrations of the school desegregation case victory, Walter White died. He had developed the organization that James Weldon Johnson had passed on to him into the most powerful vehicle of its kind for achieving racial equality. Brown v. Board of Education was his crowning achievement as much as it was Thurgood Marshall's. However, in his last years, White was an increasingly embattled figure. His flamboyant style and overinvolvement in outside activities had made him many enemies on the NAACP board, and many African Americans angrily criticized his marriage to a white woman in 1949. That year White took a leave of absence and, upon his return in 1950, the board sharply restricted his policy-making power.
White left a staff of experienced professionals in their prime of productivity; in addition to Wilkins, White had hired Clarence Mitchell as labor secretary, Gloster B. Current as director of branches in 1946, and Henry Lee Moon, a former newspaper reporter, as director of public relations in 1948.
Roy Wilkins, who was elected in April 1955 to succeed White as NAACP executive director, faced enormous challenges. Wilkins's first problem was pressing for the enforcement of the Brown decision and for passage of FEPC and other civil rights laws. NAACP lawyers participated in the formation of desegregation plans and monitored compliance with Brown. In 1956, under NAACP sponsorship, Autherine Lucy, an African American, won a court ruling admitting her to the University of Alabama. University officials expelled her, however, on the pretext of preventing violence. The NAACP also made its struggle for passage of civil rights laws in Congress a top priority.
At the same time, the organization was forced to expend effort combatting the onslaught that the South had unleashed on the organization. The NAACP's trail-blazing victories in the courts, especially the Brown decision, made it a main target of the South's campaign of "massive resistance."
The resurgent Ku Klux Klan figured strongly in the backlash of white violence, but it was not the only threat the NAACP faced from the South. Less than two months after the Brown decision was handed down, political leaders, businessmen, and the professional elite organized the White Citizens' Council in Mississippi. Overnight, councils sprang up in other states. Regarded as "manicured kluxism," the White Citizens' Councils used economic and political pressure to prevent implementation of the Brown decision. In March 1956, nearly all of the southerners in Congress showed their defiance of Brown by signing the "Southern Manifesto," which called the Supreme Court decision "illegal."
Prior to this period, Southerners had targeted individual blacks through lynchings and other forms of violence in their campaign of terror. Now the NAACP was attacked by these groups. On Christmas night of 1951, the home of Harry T. Moore, the NAACP's field secretary in Mims, Florida, was bombed. Moore died in the blast and his wife died a few days later from injuries she received that night. In 1955, NAACP officials the Rev. George W. Lee and Lamar Smith of Belzoni, Mississippi were shot to death, and Gus Courts, president of the Belzoni NAACP branch, was shot, wounded, and later forced to abandon his store and flee to Chicago.
The NAACP charged that racial violence was a manifestation of the broader pattern of opposition to civil rights and demanded that the Justice Department protect blacks in the state and elsewhere in the South. The Justice Department, however, responded that it lacked authority to prosecute suspected murderers and civil rights violaters in what it claimed were state jurisdictions.
Despite the violence, the NAACP continued to grow. The number of branches in Mississippi increased from ten to twenty-one during 1955, while membership jumped 100 percent. The NAACP took several steps to aid local blacks. In December, the NAACP board of directors voted to deposit $20,000 in the Tri-State Bank in Memphis in order to increase the bank's reserves and enable it to make more loans to embattled blacks. The board called for an investigation of the operation in Mississippi of the federal "surplus commodities" program, which provided food to the destitute, to see if it discriminated against blacks. National NAACP officials also pushed for a meeting with the Mississippi Power and Light Company to inquire aboutPage 1594 | Top of Article cutoffs of power to businessmen active with the NAACP and overcharges for restoration.
In 1956, Louisiana led the South in a more deliberate assault on the NAACP when its attorney general demanded that the association's branches file their membership lists with the state. Because the NAACP refused to do so, the attorney general obtained an injunction barring the organization from operating in Louisiana. Alabama, Texas, and Georgia followed with similar punitive actions. In 1958, the Supreme Court (in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson) overturned Alabama's fine of $100,000 against the NAACP because it refused to disclose the names and addresses of its members. But the Court then did not lift the injunction that barred the NAACP from operating in Alabama. Furthermore, the supreme courts in Arkansas and Florida held that the High Court's ruling did not affect those states. Not until June 1, 1964, after four appeals, would the U.S. Supreme Court rule unanimously that the NAACP had a right to register in Alabama as a foreign corporation. The ruling, in effect, overturned similar bans against the NAACP in other southern states and paved the way for it to resume operations in Alabama on October 29.
On January 14, 1963, for the Supreme Court in another significant case (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button) also overturned Virginia's antibarratry law, which was enacted in 1956, prohibiting the NAACP from sponsoring, financing, or providing legal counsel in suits challenging the validity of the state's segregation and other anti-civil rights laws.
One consequence of the southern crusade against the NAACP following the Brown decision was the splitting off of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a process that began in 1956 and ended in 1961. The split was caused by threats from the Southerners to rescind the LDF's tax-exempt status, and by personal differences within the NAACP. The LDF made the battle in the courts for school desegregation its main project, while the parent NAACP continued its strategy of legal and political action in numerous forms. Robert Carter, who was on the LDF's staff, was chosen as the NAACP's general counsel and he began setting up a new legal department. Carter led the NAACP's battle against the state injunctions.
The South's response to desegregation made the NAACP intensify its call for President Eisenhower to enforce Brown, and to provide the leadership which it regarded as essential for defeating the South's steadfast resistance to the passage of civil rights laws in Congress. NAACP leaders argued that the President's prestige could overwhelm the Southerners' use of committee chairmanships and the filibuster rule in the Senate to bottle up civil rights legislation. Eisenhower, a state's rights advocate, nevertheless supported the NAACP's demand that there should be no discrimination in federally funded programs and in the armed forces; but he was opposed to federal action to enforce Brown.
In 1956, responding to the NAACP's demands, election-year domestic considerations, and international pressure, Eisenhower called for civil rights legislation in his State of the Union address. The administration's package became the basis of debate in the bill H.R. 627. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas, who believed that passage of some civil rights legislation was inevitable, began maneuvering to shape a compromise on the bill that would blunt its strongest provisions and break the southern filibuster. The civil rights forces were therefore left with what was essentially a weak voting rights law. Still, the 1957 Civil Rights Act created a division of civil rights in the Justice Department and a bipartisan Civil Rights Commission. Furthermore, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first such bill passed by Congress in eighty-two years, broke the psychological barrier to civil rights measures, making it easier for future efforts to succeed.
The encouraging breakthrough of the passage of the Civil Rights Act was somewhat overshadowed that September by the Little Rock crisis, in which Governor Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to block implementation of a federal court desegregation order at Central High School. To uphold the Constitution and end rioting, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock. His action enabled nine black children (the "Little Rock Nine") to attend the school.
THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
The NAACP launched its "Golden Anniversary" celebrations on February 12, 1959, with services at the Community Church of New York City. One of the most promising indications of the organization's future strength was the presence of 624 youths among the 2,000 delegates who packed the New York Coliseum during the annual convention, which concluded with a rally at the Polo Grounds. In December, the NAACP held its third annual Freedom Fund dinner in New York, where it honored Marian Anderson, the celebrated concert singer, and Gardner Cowles, publisher of Look magazine. The celebrations revealed the broad acceptance of the NAACP as an institution. However, its mastery was to be challenged in the 1960s by a new generation of more militant activists.
The first sign of the tensions the NAACP would face came in 1955 and 1956, when blacks in Alabama, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to lead the boycott against segregated city buses. Although the movement was sparked by NAACP legal victories against segregation and the principal leaders of the boycott were also local NAACP leaders, the strategy of nonviolent demonstrations that they adopted was a substantial departure from the association's well-defined legal and political program. Similarly, while NAACP lawyers successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court case Gayle v. Browder (1956), which handed victory to the boycotters, the MIA displayed impatience with the NAACP's carefully structured programs and centralized direction.
Inspired by the tactics of nonviolent protest, NAACP Youth Council chapters in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City further successfully tested a new confrontation strategy in 1958 by staging "sit-downs" at lunch counters to protest segregation. The protests led to the desegregation of 60 or more lunch counters. In 1959, the NAACP chapter at Washington University in St. Louis conducted sit-ins to end segregation at local lunch counters. The same year, the NAACP hired former CORE activist James Farmer as program director, but he was unable to move the association toward support for mass demonstrations, and he returned to CORE as executive director after less than two years.
As important as the Youth Council demonstrations were, however, they did not capture national media attention because they were not conducted in parts of the United States where racial tensions were highest. On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat at a segregated store lunch counter in Greensboro and refused to leave until they were served. Two of the students, Ezell Blair and Joseph McNeil, were former officers of the NAACP's college chapter. The NAACP was heavily involved — the sit-in was conducted in consultation with Dr. George Simpkins, president of the Greensboro NAACP branch, and Ralph Jones, president of the branch's executive committee. The Greensboro actions set the stage for the sit-in movement, which spread like brush fire through the South.
The NAACP declared that it was proud that many of its youth members, from Virginia to Texas, were participating in the sit-ins. NAACP branch officials, notably Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers, coordinated protest campaigns. Nevertheless, the students' confrontations with Jim Crow was an expression of impatience with the NAACP's carefully executed legal and political programs. There was a dramatic clash of strategies, with the NAACP adhering firmly to its philosophy of change through court action and legislation, while King and the students marched under the banner of nonviolent direct action and local change. (The problems of strategy and organizational discipline merged as early as 1959, when Roy Wilkins suspended Robert Williams, president of the NAACP's Monroe, North Carolina, branch, for advocating that the NAACP meet "violence with violence.") Despite the ideological clash and the intense competition for financial contributions, media attention, and historical recognition, the young activists' strategy complemented the NAACP's. The NAACP provided large sums for bail money and legal support for the demonstrators and joined more militant movement groups in local alliances, such as the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which sponsored voter registration and other activities in Mississippi.
Despite the media attention that the demonstrations in the South drew, by 1962 the NAACP's 388,347 members in 46 states and the District of Columbia helped it to remain the leader in civil rights. That growth was especially significant, given that repeated court injunctions, state administrative regulations, punitive legislation, and other intimidating actions prevented many people from working with the NAACP in the South. The restrictions on the NAACP opened a window of opportunity for action by groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; organized with the aid of NAACP veteran Ella Baker), as well as NAACP spinoffs such as the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, the NAACP's board was undergoing a change. Robert C. Weaver, an economist and national housing expert, was elected chair in 1960. Weaver resigned in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy appointed him administrator of the Federal Housing and Home Financing Administration. He was succeeded by Bishop Stephen Gil Spottswood of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
The NAACP's most outstanding contribution to the civil rights movement continued to be its legal and lobbying efforts. In 1958, the NAACP forced the University of Florida to desegregate. A similar lawsuit was pending against the University of Georgia when it desegregated in 1961. In 1962, the NAACP led the battle to desegregate the University of Mississippi. The effort was directed by Constance Baker Motley of the LDF staff. Nevertheless, the fact that the parent NAACP featured the struggle in its 1962 annual report showed the extent to which the battle to enroll James H. Meredith in the university was also its own. After Mississippi governor Ross Barnett defied a federal court order, President Kennedy was forced to send in federalPage 1596 | Top of Article troops to quell a riot and assure Meredith's admittance.
The NAACP used the President's pleas for compliance, as well as the South's brutal opposition to the nonviolent demonstrations, to reinforce its struggle in Washington for passage of a meaningful civil rights law. Following the breakthrough in 1957, the NAACP had gotten Congress to pass the 1960 Civil Rights Act. That, however, was only a weak voting rights amendment to the 1957 act. Kennedy, insisting that comprehensive civil rights legislation would not pass, refused to send any to Congress. In February 1963, Kennedy submitted a weak civil rights bill. Mobilizing a historic coalition through the LCCR, the NAACP began an all-out struggle for passage of the bill as well as the strengthening of its provisions. NAACP pickets in Lawrence, Kansas, New York City, Newark, and Philadelphia helped highlight the struggle for such provisions as a national fair employment practice law.
Events in 1963 reshaped the civil rights bill and the struggle. The demonstrations in Birmingham that King led during the spring provoked national outrage. On June 11th, in response to the demonstrations, President Kennedy delivered a televised civil rights address. The following night, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. On June 19, the day Evers was buried at Arlington Cemetery, Kennedy sent Congress a revised civil rights bill that was much stronger than the one he had submitted in February.
The climactic event of 1963 was the March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom (MOW). A. Philip Randolph had initiated the call for a march in January. The NAACP, nevertheless, led in organizing it and saw to it that the march, held on August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial, broadened its focus to include the legislative struggle. From a strategic point of view, Clarence Mitchell and the NAACP Washington bureau regarded the legislative conference it held with NAACP branch leaders earlier in August as more meaningful to the struggle in Congress than the MOW had been. Both, nevertheless, served the intended purpose.
Following the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963, Lyndon Johnson vowed to ensure passage of his predecessor's civil rights bill and provided the leadership that the NAACP had demanded from the executive branch. In the final, crucial phase of the struggle in the Senate, Johnson orchestrated the coordinated leadership of Majority Leader Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Minority Leader Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.). Debate on the 1964 civil rights bill, H.R. 7152, began in earnest on March 10 and lasted until June 10, when the civil rights forces were finally able to break the filibuster.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an immense victory for the NAACP. Following its passage, the NAACP began work on legislation to protect the right to vote. Following the Selma-to-Montgomery march, led by King, to protest the continuing disfranchisement of blacks in the South, the national climate was favorable to such a bill, and the NAACP was again left to direct the struggle in Congress for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This struggle was much less dramatic than that of 1964, perhaps because many expected its passage. Even so, as in 1957, the NAACP was hard-pressed to ward off attempts to weaken the bill. Its success in this battle was evident by the strong law that Congress passed.
Following passage of the civil rights laws, the NAACP switched its attention to enforcement, particularly in the areas of public school desegregation, employment, and housing. It also sought and won passage of strengthening provisions, such as amendments to the equal employment opportunity title of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It won the first extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 1970 with a provision extending protection for the right to vote, as well as subsequent ones. The programs remained centered in large part on the activities of the branches and its labor, education, and housing departments.
Despite the NAACP's crucial contribution to legislation which ended state-sponsored racial discrimination, the organization, with its interracial structure and integrationist philosophy, was scorned by increasing numbers of young blacks during the late 1960s as old-fashioned and overly cautious. The cycle of urban racial violence during the 1960s displayed the limits of the NAACP's program in appealing to frustrated urban blacks. President Johnson appointed Roy Wilkins a member of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, and the commission's well-known 1968 report reflected fully the NAACP's concerns.
Despite the radical criticism of the NAACP's program, the vitality of the organization's legal strategy was manifest by its success in passing legislation despite the embittered climate for black rights. While the NAACP shared credit with the other civil rights organizations for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, there can be no doubt about its central role in 1968, when the Fair Housing Act was passed. Fearing the failure of a legislative struggle for fair housing legislation, many black leaders asked President Johnson to issue instead a comprehensive executive order barring discrimination in government-sponsored housing programs and federally insured mortgages. Johnson, however, did not want to deal with the problem piecemeal, and the NAACP supported him. The wisdom of that decision was evident on April 11, when President Johnson signed the 1968 Fair Housing Act, although its final version was somewhatPage 1597 | Top of Article weaker than the NAACP had originally intended. The final days of this struggle were overshadowed by the assassination of Dr. King in Memphis on April 4. The following day, at a meeting of civil rights leaders at the White House, the NAACP agreed to a suggestion that Congress be urged to pass the fair housing bill as a tribute to the slain leader.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the NAACP faced new and sometimes more difficult challenges than in the past. These problems now resulted from systemic or endemic discrimination, which were more difficult to identify than state-imposed segregation and required the development of new strategies to correct. One of the organization's most important functions became the designing and implementing of affirmative action and minority hiring programs with government and private business. This struggle was led by Nathaniel R. Jones, who replaced Robert Carter as the NAACP's general counsel in 1969. (Jones served in this position for ten years, before leaving to become a judge on the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, in Cincinnati.) The NAACP brought suits or sent amicus curiae briefs in many notable affirmative action cases during the 1960s and 1970s. For example, in 1969 the NAACP brought Head v. Timken Roller Bearing Co., of Columbus, Ohio, a landmark antidiscrimination lawsuit. In 1976, it won a consent decree, with a settlement by which twenty-five black workers were awarded back pay and won expanded promotional opportunities into previously all-white craft jobs. As a result of another lawsuit, filed against the Indiana State Police Department, twenty black troopers were hired, bringing the number on the thousand-man force to twenty-three.
Another aspect of the NAACP's legal struggle was the campaign against the death penalty. This struggle was led primarily by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which monitored death penalty cases and compiled statistics demonstrating racial disproportions in death penalty sentencing outcomes. As a result, in Furman v. Georgia (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily struck down the death penalty.
Among the NAACP's other achievements was a continuation of the thirty-eight-year-old struggle to defeat unfavorable nominees to the Supreme Court. The NAACP scored a double victory against the nomination in 1969 of Judge Clement F. Haynsworth of South Carolina and in 1970 of Judge G. Harrold Carswell of Florida as Supreme Court justices. The NAACP opposed them because of their records on racial issues. The NAACP would continue to be influential in the confirmation process — for example, in 1987 the organization led the successful opposition to the Supreme Court appointment of Robert Bork and in 1990 helped defeat the confirmation of William Lucas, an African-American conservative, as assistant attorney for civil rights.
Still another focus of NAACP efforts was its ongoing campaign against media stereotypes. NAACP pressure had succeeded in removing Amos 'n' Andy from network first-run television in the early 1950s; in the 1960s, NAACP pressure was partly responsible for the creation of the TV series Julia, the first series with a positive African-American leading character. In the 1980s, the NAACP organized protests of Steven Spielberg's film The Color Purple owing to its white director and negative portrayal of black men.
THE SEARCH FOR NEW DIRECTION
By the mid-1970s, the NAACP once again was forced into a period of transition. Henry Lee Moon retired in 1974. In 1976 Roy Wilkins retired as NAACP executive director. He had devoted forty-five years to the struggle and fulfilled most of his goals. In 1978 Clarence Mitchell also retired. Meanwhile, as a sign of the growing influence of women in the organization and the civil rights movement, in 1975 Margaret Bush Wilson, a St. Louis lawyer, was elected to chair the NAACP board of directors. Twenty years later, Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, was elected as its chair, and Hazel Dukes was named president of the powerful New York state chapter.
Along with the problems connected with the change in administration, the NAACP faced grave financial problems and some opposition to its program among blacks, who continued to criticize the NAACP as irrelevant to black needs. This opposition was an important challenge facing Benjamin L. Hooks, a minister, lawyer, and member of the Federal Communications Commission, when he became executive director of the association in January 1977. Hooks assumed command of the NAACP at a time when it was not only struggling to devise an effective strategy for new civil rights challenges but battling for its very existence.
In 1976, two adverse judgments in lawsuits against the NAACP in Mississippi had presented it with the worst crisis in its lifetime: A court awarded Robert Moody, a state highway patrolman, $250,000 as a result of a lawsuit charging libel and slander that he had filed against the NAACP. Local NAACP officials and its state field director had charged Moody with police brutality because he had allegedly beaten a black man while arresting him on a reckless driving charge. To protect its assets, the NAACP had to borrow money to post the required $262,000 bond, though it eventually won reversal of the judgment in appeals.
Then, the Hinds County chancery court in Jackson, Mississippi, handed down a $1.25 million judgment against the NAACP as a result of a lawsuit that local businessmen had filed against the organization following a boycott of their stores. Under Mississippi law, in order to forestall the seizure of its assets pending an appeal, the NAACP had to post a cash bond amounting to 125 percent of the judgment, which was $1,563,374. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment in 1982. However, the experience was sobering.
The NAACP was disconcerted by the Supreme Court ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. The Court ruled five to four that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act barred a university medical school's special admissions program for blacks and ordered a white applicant's admission. Although another bare majority ruled that race was a constitutionally valid criterion for admission programs, the Court had increased the difficulty of developing specific programs to meet constitutional tests.
The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, at a time when the NAACP was still groping for effective programs to meet new challenges, was an even more ominous development. The Reagan administration all but destroyed the effectiveness of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the Equal Employment Commission. In 1984, Benjamin Hooks led a 125,000-person March on Washington to protest the "legal lynching" of civil rights by the Reagan administration.
Questions concerning Hooks's leadership gained national attention in 1983 when Board Chair Margaret Wilson unilaterally suspended him. Outraged that Wilson had reprimanded Hooks without its approval, the board replaced her with Kelly Alexander Sr., a North Carolina mortician. Following Alexander's death in 1986, the board elected Dr. William F. Gibson, a South Carolina dentist, as chairman. In order to oust Gibson, who was bitterly criticized for his leadership of the NAACP, Myrlie Evers led one of the fiercest internal battles in the organization's history.
Despite those setbacks, Hooks led the NAACP in winning several promising agreements from corporations, such as $1 billion from the American Gas Association, to provide jobs and other economic opportunities for blacks under a fair share program he inaugurated. In 1986, Hooks relocated the NAACP's national headquarters to Baltimore. Among his other accomplishments was the ACT-SO (Afro-Academic Cultural Technological Scientific Olympics) program he created to promote academic experience among minority youth through local, regional, and national competition. His goal was to seek proficiency in all academic areas, but with a special emphasis in the arts and humanities and the applied, technical, and social sciences. Hooks also continued the NAACP's political action programs with a special emphasis on voter registration.
In April 1993, Hooks retired as NAACP executive director. The board of directors had considerable difficulty deciding on a successor. Candidates included the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The board finally selected the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., an official of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, who had once served more than four years in prison after being wrongly convicted on charges of conspiracy and arson for setting fire to a grocery store in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1972. Chavis, much younger than his predecessor, was chosen in an attempt to revitalize the NAACP by attracting new sources of funding and reaching out to young African Americans. Chavis also called for the NAACP to expand its efforts to serve other minority interests.
Chavis's short tenure proved extremely controversial. In accord with his policy of attracting young African Americans, he shifted NAACP policy in a nationalistic direction and embraced black separatists, whom the NAACP had previously denounced. Chavis succeeded in increasing youth interest in the NAACP and was praised for his meetings with gang leaders, but he was widely criticized for inviting black radicals such as Nation of Islam chair Louis Farrakhan to a black leadership conference, and for refusing to disassociate himself from the Nation's anti-Semitic policies. The NAACP's membership dropped significantly as a result.
Chavis also met with opposition to his administrative policies. NAACP board members were angered by his unauthorized policy statements, such as his approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, Chavis was blamed for running up the organization's deficit, already swelled by declining memberships, to $1.2 million through staff salary increases. When in the summer of 1994 it was disclosed that Chavis had used organization money in an out-of-court settlement of a sexual harassment suit filed by a female staffer, there began to be calls for his resignation. On August 20, 1994, in a meeting of the board of directors, Chavis was removed as executive director.
The schism over Chavis's policies provided a forum for fundamental disagreements between blacks over the role of civil rights organizations. With full legal equality substantially achieved, the NAACP continued to face questions regarding the best use of its leadership and the appropriate strategy to employ in attacking the problems of African Americans.
The NAACP spent most of the following years attempting to assess its role. In February 1995, NAACP Board Chair William Gibson was forced to resign, and Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was named to the position. Under Evers-Williams's supervision, the organization restructured its finances and reaffirmed its intergrationist mission. In December 1995, Representative Kweisi Mfume announced that he would leave Congress to take over the daily operation of the NAACP. Under Mfume's leadership, the organization erased its fiscal deficit and renewed its activism on many fronts, including human rights, environmental racism, and justice for African Americans. In February 1998, Evers-Williams resigned and civil rights veteran Julian Bond became chair of the board. Bond spoke forcefully of the need for the NAACP to renew its focus on encouraging blacks to gain power through voting, and the NAACP took credit for the increase in the black vote in the 1998 congressional elections.
Bond has continued as chair of the NAACP into the twenty-first century, although the organization has once again come under attack, this time for remarks made by Bond during his keynote address at the NAACP's July 11, 2004 convention in Philadelphia in which he criticized both political parties and also challenged President George W. Bush's policies on the war in Iraq, civil liberties, the economy, and education. This has led to an investigation by the IRS into a possible violation of the NAACP's tax-exempt status, which bars nonpartisan, nonprofit groups from improper political bias and campaign intervention. If the government rules that the NAACP is too partisan to be considered a legitimate nonprofit, the IRS could then revoke the group's tax-exempt status.
The NAACP underwent another change in leadership with the resignation of President and CEO Kweisi Mfume in January 2005. Mfume cited a desire to spend more time with his family as his reason for stepping down. He later announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate (for Maryland) in 2006. During his nine-year tenure, Mfume succeeded in retiring the organization's debt and put a focus on increasing the participation of a younger generation of African Americans, including increasing the number of NAACP college campus branches to more than 140. However, his detractors point out that he did little to draw attention to health, education, and criminal justice issues in the black community. Membership is also stagnant at an estimated 500,000, although the NAACP is working to increase its overall membership by 20 percent in the coming years. Dennis Courtland Hayes served as General Counsel in charge of the NAACP's legal program to eliminate racial discrimination and was the interim President and CEO until June 2005. While the NAACP's focus remains on civil rights enforcement, voter and economic empowerment, educational excellence, and youth recruitment, members also hope that new leadership with come up with a clear and inclusive message for the black community and promote grassroot efforts that will connect both locally and nationally. In June 2005 Bruce S. Gordon was named as the new president and CEO of the NAACP.
See also Bagnall, Robert ; Bunche, Ralph ; Civil Rights Movement, U.S. ; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) ; Crisis, The ; Du Bois, W. E. B. ; Garvey, Marcus ; Great Depression and the New Deal ; Johnson, James Weldon ; Lynching ; Messenger, The ; National Negro Congress ; Niagara Movement ; Politics in the United States ; Randolph, Asa Philip ; Riots and Popular Protests ; Scottsboro Case ; Socialism; Spingarn Medal ; Trotter, William Monroe ; Universal Negro Improvement Association ; Washington, Booker T. ; White, Walter Francis ; Wells-Barnett, Ida B.
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DENTON L. WATSON (1996)
CHRISTINE TOMASSINI (2005)