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Author: Mamie E. Locke
Editor: Patrick L. Mason
Date: 2013
Encyclopedia of Race and Racism
From: Encyclopedia of Race and Racism(Vol. 3. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Organization overview
Pages: 11
Content Level: (Level 4)

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established when direct racism in the Deep South had become a national problem, as reflected in race riots that occurred in New York City and New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1900; in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1906; in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908; and throughout mainstream America in 1910 when heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson (1878–1946), an African American, defeated James Jeffries (1875–1953), the “great white hope” of the era. Between 1900 and 1910, at least 505 blacks were lynched in the United States, and no person of color served in the US Congress. In 1896, the US Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, that racial segregation was not unconstitutional, a decision that accelerated a trend that had begun a generation earlier. A year before Plessy, Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), the founder and principal of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, shot to international fame with his call in his 1895 Atlanta Compromise speech for blacks to temporarily withdraw from political struggle and concentrate on cooperating with whites in economics. Washington's philosophy of accommodationism was in direct opposition to other leaders, such as William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934), editor of the Boston Guardian, and William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois (1868–1963), who would become one of the founding members of the NAACP.

Race relations were so poor that blacks held a conference at Atlanta University in 1893 on the theme of migration. Between 1895 and 1896, two shiploads of blacks sailed for Liberia in what was meant to be the beginning of a mass migration of blacks back to Africa. Because of boll weevils in the cotton and the terror of Ku Klux Klansmen in white sheets, black southerners were also migrating north to Harlem, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Blacks tried to defend their rights through several organizations established prior to the formation of the NAACP. One was the National Afro-American League, which was organized in 1890 by T. Thomas Fortune (1856–1928), the militant editor of the New York Age. This organization failed in its efforts to convert principle into practice, however; it reformed from 1898 to 1908 as the Afro-American Council.


The other protest association was the Niagara Movement, founded to counter the dire effects of Booker T. Washington's doctrine of status quo accommodation on racial issues. Led by W. E. B. Du Bois; William Monroe Trotter; John Hope (1868–1936), a professor of classics and destined to become the first black president of Morehouse College in 1906; and Harry Clay Smith (1863–1941), the editor of the Cleveland Gazette, a group of twenty-nine like-minded African Americans held a conference in 1905 on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The fact that the conference was held in Canada is symbolic of the racial strife and discord in the United States at that time, for the group could not secure a hotel site in New York. Out of this conference emerged a call for an end to racial discrimination and an extension of full civil liberties to African Americans in the United States.

The Niagara Movement had many points in its platform, including the right to manhood suffrage, freedom

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NAACP at Harpers Ferry, 1932. NAACP at Harpers Ferry, 1932. The 23rd Annual Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People made a pilgrimage to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to hold memorial services for abolitionist John Brown at the site of his historic raid, and to place a memorial tablet at his fort. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

of speech, the abolition of caste based upon race and color, and a belief in the dignity of labor. The group took the opportunity to issue a condemnation of Booker T. Washington's accommodationist philosophy. Du Bois wanted to weaken Washington's leadership role with the African American community by limiting his control and access to favorable public opinion, especially by pointing out his position of not supporting political equality. The group held subsequent meetings in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown's 1859 raid designed to free enslaved blacks.

The Niagara Movement saw its role as using the legal system to fight for civil rights. By 1910, several of the nation's ablest black lawyers were affiliated with the organization and arguing civil rights cases. But the organization was dying due to a lack of funds. When the opportunity arose to join forces with another organization whose platform was nearly identical to its own, the Niagara Movement merged with the new group.


Following a major riot in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, Mary White Ovington (1865–1951) spearheaded the formation of the NAACP in New York City in 1909. During the riot, many of the city's leading white citizens organized themselves into mobs, and over a two-day period they killed two blacks and five whites, wounded scores of African Americans, burned homes, and ran thousands out of town.

The Springfield riot became the subject of countless newspaper and magazine articles. Socialist William English Walling (1877–1936) of The Independent wrote the article “The Race War in the North,” detailing the atrocities launched against African American citizens, not only in Springfield but throughout the South. He raised the question of whether the spirit of abolitionism could be revived so that black citizens might one day be treated equally in the political and social arenas, or whether the voices of race-baiting southern segregationists, such as Senator Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman (1847–1918) of South Carolina and Senator James K. Vardaman (1861–1930) of Mississippi, would become the norm. Walling's final question was, “Yet who realizes the seriousness of the situation, and what large and powerful body of citizens is ready to come to their aid?” (Walling 1908, p. 534).

Ovington responded to Walling's challenge. As founder of Greenpoint Settlement in Brooklyn, she spent much of her time studying the housing and employment status of blacks in New York. As a descendant of abolitionists, Ovington felt that the spirit of abolitionism had to be revived, and she wanted to pursue the struggle for civil and political rights with the same spirit that had motivated the abolitionists. With that as a mission, she sent a letter to Walling, who agreed to meet with her in his New York apartment. Along with social worker Henry Moskowitz (c. 1875–1936) and John P. Mitchel (1879–1918), later mayor of New York City, they met in January 1909.

Ovington, Walling, Moskowitz, and Mitchel discussed the various issues and concerns pertinent to the mistreatment of black people. They wanted to move quickly in putting together a national forum and set the date of February 12, 1909, Abraham Lincoln's 100th birthday, on which to hold a conference on the “Negro question.” They planned to use the opportunity to Page 171  |  Top of Articleorganize that body of citizens that Walling alluded to in his article.

The meeting was not held on that date, however, but in May 1909. From the adjournment of this initial meeting to the date of the national meeting, this group appealed to others to participate. They called upon Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949), president of the New York Evening Post Company and grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879), editor of the Liberator, a radical antislavery newspaper of the antebellum era. Through his newspaper, Villard wrote and published a call for a national meeting to consider the racism involved in repressing blacks. There were many prominent Americans who signed “The Call.” Among them were Jane Addams (1860–1935), Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931), William Dean Howells (1837–1920), Reverend Francis J. Grimké (c. 1850–1937), Rabbi Emil Hirsch (c. 1851–1923), J. G. Phelps Stokes (1872–1960), Lincoln Steffens (1866–1936), Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (1874–1949), and African Methodist Episcopal bishop Alexander Walters (1858–1917), as well as the group from the original meeting. The signatures of all those who signed “The Call” were issued on February 12. The conference opened on May 30, 1909, and, after a series of organizational meetings, the NAACP opened its doors with two offices in the Evening Post building in New York. The first national president of the NAACP was Moorfield Storey (1845–1929), a constitutional attorney and past president of the American Bar Association. Du Bois, the only African American member of the executive team, became the director of publicity and research and editor of the official magazine, The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races.

The organization worked on behalf of Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Jews. Its purpose was to secure for all people the rights guaranteed under the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. Its principal objective was to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of minority groups in the United States. Its efforts would be directed toward eliminating racial discrimination through established democratic processes. The early leadership and membership felt that civil rights could be secured through the enactment and enforcement of federal, state, and local laws, and by the organization becoming a forum for informing the public about the negative effects of discrimination, segregation, and racist public policies. The NAACP was incorporated in 1911.

The newly formed organization was criticized by some in the African American community, notably Booker T. Washington, who felt that the NAACP's tactic of openly condemning racist policies contrasted with his policy of quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Scholars argue that with the founding of the NAACP, Washington's position as leader of the African American community began to wane and had all but disappeared by the time of his death in 1915.


As the first major civil rights organization in the United States, the NAACP took on the responsibility of righting the wrongs that burdened people of color through legal action. Its volunteer lawyers filed lawsuits or supported legal issues that would further the NAACP's cause. Its platform was initially that of advocacy, such as exposing the evils of lynching and other racial injustices. It would later add a legal agenda as a means to achieving its objectives.

In its first few years, the NAACP was faced with President Woodrow Wilson's approval in 1913 of legislation that officially segregated the federal government. This was followed by the release of D. W. Griffith's silent movie The Birth of a Nation in 1915. The NAACP organized a nationwide protest against the film, which promoted negative stereotypes and glorified the Ku Klux Klan. The film's release led to riots in major cities across the United States. Some cities, including Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, refused to allow the film to be shown. President Wilson viewed the film at a White House screening. He was alleged to have commented that “it's all so terribly true,” though one of his aides denied that he ever made the statement. As the controversy over the film continued to grow, Wilson finally issued a statement indicating that he disapproved of the “unfortunate production.”

During World War I (1914–1918), the NAACP, led by Joel Spingarn (1875–1939), demanded that the War Department provide a training camp for African American officers. This led to the opening of a camp in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1917. That same year, a riot occurred in Houston, Texas, that involved members of the Twenty-fourth Infantry, an African American military unit. Although an investigation revealed that the soldiers had been provoked into violence, thirteen black soldiers were hanged in 1917, with an additional sixteen being condemned to death. With pressure put on President Wilson, sentences were commuted for ten of the soldiers, although another six were executed in 1918. The NAACP also challenged the military's exclusion of African Americans from being commissioned as officers. This battle was won and, as a result, more than six hundred black officers were commissioned, and 700,000 black Americans registered for the draft. One of the newly commissioned officers was Charles Hamilton Houston (1895–1950), a 1915 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Page 172  |  Top of ArticleAmherst College. Houston pointed to his experience in the military, where he faced the hatred and disrespect shown to black officers, as the catalyst for his decision to attend law school to fight such atrocities. After the war, he earned a law degree from Harvard Law School.

As the NAACP began to gain national recognition, its membership grew from approximately nine thousand in 1917 to approximately ninety thousand in 1919. Joel Spingarn developed the membership strategy that led to this exponential growth. With an emphasis on local organizations, he focused on developing branches across the United States. By 1919, there were more than three hundred local branches, and the NAACP was well on its way to becoming the nation's premier civil rights organization. James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) joined the staff of the NAACP in 1916. Johnson wrote the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which his brother, composer J. Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954), set to music in 1900. This song became known as the “black national anthem.” In 1918, Johnson recruited Walter White (1893–1955) to the NAACP. White eventually became the organization's assistant national secretary after Johnson was appointed the first African American executive secretary in 1920. With White, the battle against lynching began in earnest. Because of his near-white complexion, he was able to infiltrate white groups. He collected information on participants in the lynching crimes and had it published in The Crisis. Johnson resigned in 1930, and the following year White succeeded him as executive secretary.

Sidebar: HideShow


Walter Francis White (1893–1955) was the fourth child born to Madeline Harrison and George White in Atlanta, Georgia. His maternal great-grandfather was President William Henry Harrison. With blond hair and blue eyes, White had no discernible black features. His rationale for not passing for white came as a result of the 1906 Atlanta riot when he concluded that “I am not white. There is nothing within my mind and heart which tempts me to think I am” (White 1995, p. 3).

Graduating from Atlanta University in 1916, White was a founding member of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP. He was recruited to the New York office by James Weldon Johnson, the organization's executive secretary. Passing for white, White was able to gather information on lynchings, collecting names of participants and other details about the crimes—information that was published in The Crisis, the NAACP's house organ. White succeeded Johnson as executive secretary in 1931, a position he held until his death in 1955.

During White's tenure the NAACP began a series of lawsuits seeking equality in education. He recruited Charles Hamilton Houston from Howard University to serve as chief counsel. These legal challenges culminated with the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education. White was not without controversy, however. His conflict with W. E. B. Du Bois led to the latter's resignation as editor of The Crisis in 1934. He also was critical of the singer and actor Paul Robeson and was instrumental in the publication and distribution of an anti-Robeson book. White's affair and marriage to a white South African also created problems for him and the NAACP. Despite these controversies, White's twenty-four-year tenure as head of the NAACP is the longest in the organization's history.


Janken, Kenneth R. 2010. “Walter White (1893–1955).” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Available from

White, Walter. 1995. A Man Called White: The Autobiography of Walter White. Athens: University of Georgia Press. First published 1948 by Viking Press.

Wormser, Richard. “Jim Crow Stories: Walter White.” The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (PBS). Available from

Mamie E. Locke
Hampton University, VA

The antilynching battle was also fought in both the courts and legislature. The NAACP strongly supported the Dyer bill, which would have punished those who participated in or failed to prosecute lynch mobs. The bill was introduced by Representative Leonidas C. Dyer (1871–1957) of Missouri in 1918. The NAACP was the major lobbyist in support of the legislation and issued a report in 1919 titled Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889–1918. This report resulted in substantive public debate and is credited with causing a decline in the incidence of lynching, but it did not end the atrocities. The legislation was never passed by Page 173  |  Top of ArticleCongress. However, the NAACP was successful in forcing the hand of President Wilson, who issued a public statement against lynching in 1918.

The NAACP had success in its role as an advocate, but felt it necessary to shift to the use of litigation as another means of achieving its goals. The legal team in the early years included Moorfield Storey, Clarence Darrow (1857–1938), and Arthur Spingarn (1878–1971). However, there were problems. White and his assistant secretary, Roy Wilkins (1901–1981), often came into conflict with Du Bois over NAACP policy. Du Bois also questioned the board's position and direction as to how to approach segregation. As a result of these differences, Du Bois resigned in 1934. That same year, White recruited Charles Hamilton Houston to become the first full-time attorney for the NAACP.


The NAACP began its history of fighting legal battles in 1910 with the case of Franklin v. State of South Carolina. Pink Franklin, a black South Carolina sharecropper, had been put on trial for killing a white policeman. He had received an advance on his wages, but shortly afterward left his employer. After a warrant was issued for his arrest under an invalid state law, armed police went to his home at 3:00 a.m. to arrest him. When they did not state their purpose, a gun battle ensued, and one officer, H. E. Valentine, was killed. Franklin was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The NAACP intervened and eventually had Franklin's sentence commuted to life imprisonment. He was freed in 1919. The case prompted Joel Spingarn and his brother Arthur to begin fighting such cases in earnest. This effort became the forerunner of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Between 1915 and 1927, the NAACP appealed to the US Supreme Court to rule that laws passed by southern states concerning voting rights, education, and housing were unconstitutional. The organization won several major victories. The NAACP challenged an Oklahoma law that established a grandfather clause as a criterion for voting. The law imposed a literacy and “understanding” test on prospective voters whose ancestors were not entitled to vote prior to 1866, which virtually eliminated all African Americans whose ancestors were freed from slavery in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment. In 1915, in Guinn v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down Oklahoma's grandfather clause as a barrier to voting rights granted in the Fifteenth Amendment. In 1917, in Buchanan v. Warley, the Court ruled that municipal ordinances that mandated segregation were unconstitutional. This ruling led whites to develop the use of restrictive covenants to accomplish the same objective. In such covenants, white property owners agreed to sell or rent to whites only. In 1923, in Moore v. Dempsey, the Court ruled that the exclusion of African Americans from juries was inconsistent with the right to a fair trial.

The NAACP began to attack “white primaries” in 1927. The white primary was an electoral mechanism used by the Democratic Party in the South as a means of excluding African American voters. For all intents and purposes, a candidate for office was chosen in the primary election, from which blacks were excluded by racial membership rules adopted by the party, a situation that made the November general election perfunctory. In a series of cases originating in Texas, the argument was put forward that the white primary deprived African Americans of their rights under the Fifteenth Amendment. The Court had always interpreted the amendment to mean that “state action” could not deprive voters of their rights. In the first case, the state of Texas had established the white primary through statute. In Nixon v. Herndon (1927) and Nixon v. Condon (1932), therefore, the US Supreme Court found state action in the establishment of the white primary. The Texas Democratic Party then limited participation in the primary to whites on its own. In Grovey v. Townsend (1935), the Supreme Court did not find state action, ruling that the party was a private entity. Thus, the use of white primaries was legal. Nine years later, the Court reversed itself in Smith v. Allwright (1944), finding that the party was inextricably linked to the state and that the primary was a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. Thus, white primaries were finally outlawed.

Hocutt v. Wilson (1933) was one of the first test cases involving segregation in higher education. Thomas Hocutt, a student at North Carolina College for Negroes, was denied admission to the University of North Carolina's School of Pharmacy. His attorneys, Conrad Pearson and Cecil McCoy, sought the assistance of the NAACP. William Hastie (1904–1976) directed the litigation on behalf of the NAACP. Despite the praise given Hastie and his team, the case was undermined by the refusal of Dr. James E. Shepard, president of North Carolina College, to release Hocutt's transcript to the University of North Carolina. The case was filed in the Superior Court of Durham County where the judge ruled that Hocutt did not satisfy the requirements for admission because he did not provide a copy of his transcript. Hocutt lost the case on this technicality.

Victories in the majority of these cases set the stage for a more in-depth litigation strategy. In 1935, Charles Hamilton Houston started a legal campaign to end school segregation, assisted by Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993), one of his former Howard University students. Houston began the higher education litigation in 1938 with Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. Lloyd Page 174  |  Top of ArticleGaines was denied entry to the University of Missouri Law School, and the US Supreme Court ruled that Missouri must offer Gaines an equal facility within the state or admit him to the university's law school. In response, the state legislature attempted to establish a makeshift law school for black students, which caused Houston to renew litigation. Gaines disappeared, however, and the litigation ended. Shortly afterward, in 1940, Houston resigned his position, and Thurgood Marshall was made chief counsel of the new legal branch, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). The LDF would become a separate entity in 1957.

Marshall focused on other areas of Jim Crow before returning to education cases. In 1946, he and his team won Morgan v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court banned states from operating segregated facilities on buses and trains that crossed state borders. They then argued against restrictive covenants in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), in which the Supreme Court struck down the use of such covenants. After these successes, the Marshall team began the series of education cases for which the NAACP is most noted. Marshall decided to attack the doctrine of “separate but equal” head on as being unconstitutional.

In 1950, the Supreme Court ruled in Sweatt v. Painter that racial segregation in professional schools—in this instance, the University of Texas Law School—was inherently unequal and unconstitutional, despite the state's efforts to establish a separate law school for black students. Also in 1950, the Supreme Court ruled in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents that if a student was admitted to a school, then the student was entitled to equal treatment and could not be segregated from other students, as George McLaurin had been at the University of Oklahoma. This case and others before it paved the way for the NAACP landmark legal cases, which culminated in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

The organization spent years fighting racial segregation in schools in the thirteen southern states. The NAACP proved that children at “white only” schools were allotted more money and better resources than children at “black only” schools. Marshall pointed out that the South Carolina school system spent $179 per year for white students but only $43 for black children. The NAACP also used research from psychologist Kenneth Clark's doll experiments to demonstrate the psychological impact of segregated schools on black children. Clark studied the effects of segregation on children by using black dolls and white dolls. When shown the dolls, black children liked the white dolls better and saw the black dolls as “bad.” They also saw themselves as the white doll, but when asked which doll looked most like them, the children became upset when they had to pick the doll that they had rejected. The experiment demonstrated that the children had an internalized sense of inferiority. The Supreme Court accepted Marshall's argument and ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, effectively overturning the earlier decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Under Marshall's leadership, the NAACP was very successful in many of its legal challenges to Jim Crow.


In the late 1950s, the NAACP saw its membership dwindle to fewer than five hundred. This decline was attributed to accusations that labor unions and black groups had been infiltrated by communists. In its battle with the Soviet Union, the United States inspired loyalty and patriotism through anticommunist rhetoric. The effort to associate organizations with communist influence wreaked havoc. The NAACP was put in the position of having to deny any association with communists and to distance itself from any individuals or organizations alleged to have ties with communists. Walter White was critical of Paul Robeson (1898–1976), who, because of his nationalist and anticolonialist activities, was branded a major threat to American democracy. White was instrumental in the publication and distribution of an anti-Robeson book. White and Roy Wilkins worked diligently to thwart any attempts by communists to win the loyalty of African Americans and opposed any effort to shift focus from political reform to class struggle. Following the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the state of Alabama banned the NAACP. Many states also prohibited state employees from participating in the organization, which affected teachers in these states. Members of the organization, once discovered, were subject to harassment and job loss.

The NAACP was also faced with new organizations emerging out of the struggle in the South. After his successful leadership in the Montgomery bus boycott, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) became a powerful voice in the movement. In 1957, he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which became the political arm of the black church. Unlike the legal and legislative approach favored by the NAACP, the SCLC used direct-action techniques to accomplish its goals. Although the NAACP was opposed to extralegal popular actions, many of its members, such as Medgar Evers (1925–1963), the Mississippi field secretary, participated in nonviolent demonstrations, such as sit-ins and marches. The NAACP collaborated with the SCLC and other civil rights organization, such as the National Urban League, on issues important to advancing the civil rights cause.

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Following Houston's original plan, the NAACP Legal Redress Committee took the lead in the continued focus on education at the high-school level. The NAACP's state president in Arkansas, Daisy Bates (1914–1999), organized a group of students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. A lawsuit was filed in federal district court to force the immediate integration of schools. Thurgood Marshall joined in the appeal but lost the case in the Eighth US Circuit and decided against pursuing further action. Bates, however, proceeded with plans to integrate. By the start of the school year, the group of students led by Bates had dwindled to nine. The “Little Rock Nine” gained national prominence when the National Guard was federalized by President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) and sent in to protect the students. In the 1958 case of Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas governor Orval Faubus (1910–1994) could not interfere with the desegregation of Central High School. In response, the Little Rock school board closed the schools.

Following the Brown decision, some states and cities took action similar to Little Rock's and chose to close their schools rather than integrate. The school system in Prince Edward County, Virginia, closed for the longest period, from 1959 to 1964. The NAACP, meanwhile, managed to get legislation through the Congress in the form of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. The civil rights movement then entered the direct-action phase, employing a tactic that was being used by the SCLC and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The new direct-action tactics were tested in Greensboro, North Carolina, when four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University staged sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter. The city of Greensboro had an active NAACP chapter in the 1930s, and NAACP staffer Ella Baker (1903–1986) established a youth group in the city in 1943. Two of the four students who participated in the sit-in had been members of the youth group. During the 1950s, students were further inspired by their teachers and the pastor of Greenboro's Shiloh Baptist Church to become more involved. The pastor had led a successful membership drive that doubled membership in the NAACP chapter. The Greensboro sit-ins sparked similar action in more than sixty cities across the South. The NAACP became engaged in these protests by providing legal representation for those who had been jailed and by posting bail for Freedom Riders.


The NAACP had an international connection almost from the beginning. In December 1918, Du Bois traveled to France as NAACP and The Crisis representative to the Paris Peace Conference following the end of World War I. He used the opportunity to collect material for an NAACP history of African Americans in the war and to summon a Pan-African congress.

In 1920, James Weldon Johnson was sent by the NAACP to investigate conditions in Haiti. He found that the United States' occupation of that country was brutal, and he offered solutions for the economic and social development of Haiti. Walter White developed a strong attachment to Haiti and an appreciation for Haitian culture and literature, which he promoted in the United States. He also tried to interest American investors in developing tourism in the country. The NAACP welcomed the withdrawal of American troops from Haiti in 1934. However, the American relationship with Haiti continued to be of importance to the organization. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the NAACP gave support to Haitian refugees who had been denied admission to the United States and protested US policy toward the country.

During World War II (1939–1945), the NAACP's foreign policy stemmed from personal initiatives on the part of White and Du Bois. Both traveled extensively, White to Asia and Europe and Du Bois to Africa. Both established ties between the NAACP and key international figures in foreign relations. White used the relationships he cultivated with Dwight Eisenhower, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) of India, and Lord Halifax (1881–1959) of Britain to support his efforts to bring international pressure against American racism and European colonialism. Likewise, Du Bois developed close ties with several African liberation movement leaders. In 1945, White, Du Bois, and Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955), head of the National Council of Negro Women, were appointed by the State Department as special consultants to the United Nations (UN) Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. They proposed that the colonial system be abolished and equality of the races recognized, but the proposal was not adopted. In October, Du Bois attended the Pan-African Congress in London, which met to consider the problems of African people around the world.

In 1946, Du Bois developed a proposal titled “An Appeal to the World,” which was used to petition the United Nations to ban racial discrimination nationally and internationally. The NAACP adopted the proposal, but limited it to the United States. The proposal stated that minorities in the United States were denied human rights and the NAACP was appealing to the United Nations for redress. The Soviet Union pushed for placing the petition on the UN agenda. Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), as a member of both the UN delegation and the NAACP board, refused to introduce the petition, which caused a rift between her and Du Page 176  |  Top of ArticleBois. White agreed with Roosevelt, which caused the rivalry between him and Du Bois to resurface. White and Du Bois split over whether the NAACP should support the Truman administration's foreign policy initiatives. Du Bois was dismissed in 1948 and replaced by historian Rayford Logan (1897–1982). After Du Bois's dismissal, many accused White of being subservient to the Truman administration

The NAACP also supported African liberation movements, protesting colonial ambitions abroad in the name of democracy. The organization opposed apartheid policies in South Africa and supported the nonviolent protest tactics used by black South Africans. In 1949, the NAACP sponsored a conference on colonialism in New York and adopted a statement supporting the independence of Indonesia, the establishment of an international trusteeship for South-West Africa, and the right of self-determination for Libya, Somalia, and Eritrea.

The NAACP has supported many global initiatives and has a goal of closing the disparities gap faced by people of color by promoting human rights and economic justice. In the 1980s, the organization stepped up its opposition to South African apartheid by sponsoring a number of rallies. The special guest at the national convention in 1993 was Nelson Mandela, who was presented the W. E. B. Du Bois International award. The NAACP assisted South African citizens residing in the United States with voter education in preparation for that country's special elections in 1994 and hailed Mandela's election as president. The organization also created a Department of International Affairs and engaged in efforts to end genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Through its international agenda, the NAACP continues to support global health care, democracy building, foreign aid, trade, and sustainable development in Africa and other areas of the African diaspora.


The NAACP's basic organizational structure has not changed since its founding. Ultimate decisions are made at the annual national convention. Between conventions, decisions are made by the sixty-four-member board of directors. The president and chief executive officer (CEO), staff, and chairman of the board are instrumental in making day-to-day decisions, and the national headquarters maintains significant control over the actions of local branches. Since the appointments of the writer and diplomat James Weldon Johnson as executive secretary in 1920 and Louis T. Wright (1891–1952) as the first black board chair in 1934, neither position has been held by a white person.

James Weldon Johnson was committed to exposing the injustices and brutality imposed on African Americans across the country, especially in the segregated South. He spent a considerable amount of time in Washington unsuccessfully lobbying Congress to pass the Dyer anti-lynching bill, legislation that would have made lynching a federal crime. Johnson also made the NAACP a clearinghouse for court cases defending African American civil rights and attacking the legal structure of segregation. In all these efforts, he worked closely with Walter White and Du Bois.

Walter White had the longest tenure as executive secretary, serving from 1931 to 1955. In addition to the contribution of his research on lynching, in 1930 White used his position as acting secretary of the NAACP to block the confirmation of North Carolina segregationist judge John J. Parker (1885–1958), whom President Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) had nominated that year to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. White designed the NAACP's campaign against Parker's confirmation. The organization made inquiries into Parker's background and found that he had given a speech in which he supported North Carolina's addition of a poll tax, grandfather clause, and literacy tests to its constitution. All these requirements violated the rights of African Americans. When Hoover stood by his nominee, the NAACP launched a nationwide protest campaign that attracted headlines and helped thwart Parker's confirmation.

Under White's leadership, the NAACP saw significant growth in its membership. The organization boasted approximately 600,000 members by 1946. In 1942, the Washington bureau was established as the legislative advocacy and lobbying arm of the organization. The bureau was directly responsible for strategic planning and for coordinating the political action and legislation program. Clarence Mitchell (1911–1984) was appointed director of the bureau in 1950. The Washington bureau holds an annual Legislative Mobilization, which is a forum to provide information about the NAACP's legislative agenda. It also publishes an annual Report Card to publicize how members of Congress vote on significant civil rights legislation.

White was succeeded as executive secretary (the title was later changed to executive director) by Roy Wilkins in 1955. Wilkins led the organization through the turbulent period of juxtaposing its moderate, integrationist goals against those of more direct-action organizations, such as the SCLC, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and SNCC. It was under Wilkins's leadership that the first significant legislative victory occurred, the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He worked with A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979), Martin Luther King Jr., and Page 177  |  Top of Articleothers in planning and executing the 1963 March on Washington. Wilkins also participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965 and the March Against Fear in 1966. He led the organization through the legislative victories of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Benjamin Hooks (1925–2010) became executive director upon the retirement of Wilkins in 1977. Hooks entered office at a time when the civil rights movement had all but ended. Job discrimination still existed, however, as did de facto segregation, and urban poverty and crime were on the rise. During this period, the NAACP, as an organization, was experiencing internal problems, specifically tensions between the executive director and the board of directors. Although these tensions had existed almost from the beginning, they escalated to outright hostility during Hooks's tenure, which served to weaken the organization. The NAACP also faced several legal and political setbacks that eroded some of the civil rights that had been won during the 1950s and 1960s. During Hooks's tenure, the title of chief executive officer (CEO) was added to executive director.

Although the NAACP had a large membership base and was financially self-reliant, the organization experienced a severe budget crisis in the 1980s. To help stabilize its finances, the NAACP moved its national headquarters from New York to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1986. The move was made possible with the help of more than one million dollars from the state of Maryland and the City of Baltimore and by a half-million-dollar grant from the Kresge Foundation.

Benjamin F. Chavis succeeded Hooks as executive director in 1993, an appointment that many felt was an effort by the NAACP board to move the organization in a new direction. Chavis was ousted a year later due to several controversies. He offended many liberals and supporters of the organization by reaching out to Minister Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam. He

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and National Urban League (NUL) Leaders, White House, Washington, DC, July 21, 2011. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and National Urban League (NUL) Leaders, White House, Washington, DC, July 21, 2011. Benjamin Jealous (center left), president of the NAACP, along with Marc Morial (center right), president of the NUL, met with President Barack Obama on this date. Here, Morial speaks to the media, accompanied also by Hilary Shelton (left), director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau and Chanelle Hardy (right), senior vice president and executive director of NUL. Following the celebration of its centennial in 2009, the NAACP embarked on its second century as the United States' premier civil rights organization, with more than 500,000 members in 1,700 chapters and 450 college and youth chapters. GETTY IMAGES.

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also held meetings with other prominent radical and nationalist leaders. Chavis was criticized by the board for his association with alleged extremists and for putting the organization in jeopardy with its white supporters. This period saw many internal problems for the organization, including an economic situation that led to the furloughing of staff in the national office. In an effort to establish stability, the organization named Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, as board chair in 1995. Kweisi Mfume, a former US congressman from Maryland and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, replaced Chavis as executive director in January 1996. The NAACP changed the title of executive director to president and chief executive officer. Julian Bond followed Evers as board chair in 1998.

Under Mfume, the NAACP focused on economic development and educational programs for young people. It also continued its role in legal advocacy for civil rights issues. To return the NAACP to strong financial health, Mfume cut the national staff by a third. In 1997 he launched the Economic Reciprocity Initiative (ERI), and in 2000 he negotiated TV Diversity Agreements with various television networks. Also in 2000, the NAACP retired much of its debt, and the organization operated with a budget surplus for the first time in many years. The NAACP was also successful in massive voter-registration drives that year, and it witnessed the largest black voter turnout in twenty years. Mfume led the organization in working through its political differences with major Latino civil rights organizations, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza. Mfume also guided the organization in developing a five-year strategic plan.

Bruce Gordon followed Mfume as executive director in 2005. His tenure was short-lived, however. Citing differences with the board of directors, he resigned in March 2007, just nineteen months after taking the helm. Gordon was replaced by Dennis Courtland Hayes as interim president and CEO. Hayes previously served as the NAACP's general counsel in charge of the historic legal program. When Benjamin Todd Jealous was selected as the president and CEO of the NAACP in 2008, he became the youngest person to hold the position. In 2010, Roslyn Brock succeeded Julian Bond as chairperson of the national board of directors; she was the fourth woman and youngest person to hold the position.


The most significant change in the NAACP over the years has been the decline in the interracialism that was present at the founding of the organization and lasted well into the 1960s. Until that time, whites held leadership roles and were part of the staff. This change was largely a function of the 1960s Black Power ideology and its emphasis on racial solidarity and organization. With its traditional approach, the NAACP found itself attracting fewer members, as many African Americans became sympathetic to the more militant and separatist philosophies of the Black Power movement. However, the organization remained steadfast in its mission, and under Mfume's leadership, membership steadily increased.

Remaining true to its mission, the NAACP has supported extension of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and amendments to the Fair Housing Act. It has also lobbied against the confirmation of conservative judges to the federal bench. In addition, the organization has begun to focus on nontraditional civil rights issues, such as alcohol and substance abuse, teenage pregnancies, black-on-black crime, and other issues impacting the underclass. The NAACP continues to engage in voter-registration campaigns, but being non-partisan inhibits the mobilization of black voters for particular candidates. Following the celebration of its centennial in 2009, the NAACP embarked on its second century as the nation's premier civil rights organization, with more than 500,000 members in 1,700 chapters and 450 college and youth chapters.


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Mamie E. Locke (2013)
Hampton University, VA

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX4190600302