The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—originally named the National Negro Committee—was founded in 1909 by a multiracial and multicultural group of civil and political activists as an effort of the so-called Niagara Movement. The NAACP was principally founded by Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villiard, and William English Walling in response to bigotry and racial hatred in the United States epitomized by the significant number of lynchings during that era, particularly in the southern states. The NAACP’s mission statement seeks to ‘‘ensure political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.’’ Accordingly, its vision involves ‘‘a society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination.’’ To popularize and publicize its actions, the NAACP publishes The Crisis, a national magazine, and the NAACP’s official organ. As found in the NAACP’s constitution, the principal objectives of the Association are:
To ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of all citizens
To achieve equality of rights and eliminate race prejudice among the citizens of the United States
To remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes
To seek enactment and enforcement of federal, state and local laws securing civil rights
To inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination
To educate persons as to their constitutional rights and to take all lawful action to secure the exercise thereof, and to take any other lawful action in furtherance of these objectives, consistent with the NAACP’s Articles of Incorporation and this Constitution
For nearly a hundred years, the NAACP—through its leaders and supporters alike—has been a leader in civil rights advocacy. The NAACP is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
After thirty years of sustained effort fighting for equality, the NAACP established the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF) in 1939 to carry out the organization’s tax-exempt activities, particularly high-profile and high-impact legal cases. Its focus ranged from school desegregation (for example, in South Carolina in 1930, the state spent ten times more on white children than on black children), pay and employment inequity (federal, state, and private), housing disparity; state and federal public works spending inequalities, and inadequate and segregated transportation and public accommodations, to voting disenfranchisement. Thurgood Marshall served as the director-counsel of the LDF from 1939 to 1961 when he was appointed to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President John F. Kennedy. Of course, the LDF’s legacy in the courtroom culminated in the victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (Brown I) (1954) (ruling that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional). While the NAACP itself used the public at large (through sit-ins, marches, and economic boycotts), the streets, and the ballot box to gain civil rights, the LDF used the courts to reach its goals of equality. The LDF was completely divorced from the NAACP in the mid-1960s.
Throughout its history, NAACP leaders have held the attention and support of U.S. presidents and first ladies—for example, when World War II began in 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt assisted in convincing President Franklin D. Roosevelt to end discrimination in war-related industries and federal employment (after leaving the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt joined the NAACP’s board of directors, and later chaired its life membership campaign and served as vice president of the LDF).
After Brown II (1955), a number of southern states began a deliberate campaign against the NAACP by attempting to curb its ability to operate within their borders. For example, the Alabama state legislature ordered NAACP leaders to disclose membership lists. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a lower court’s order finding the NAACP in contempt for failure to disclose its membership would have a deterrent effect on the right of association under the First Amendment (NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson ). From 1959 through the mid-1960s, the NAACP had to wage courtroom battles (most of which were ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court) against legislation passed in several states for similar invidious purposes (including inciting lawsuits under the principle of barratry)—perhaps most notably in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia.
In addition, during the post-Brown era as a direct testament to the NAACP’s fight for equality, between 1954 and 1962 state legislatures responded positively: thirteen states adopted enforceable fair employment practices acts, ten states adopted public accommodation statutes, and five states adopted fair housing laws that applied to private housing. Notably, in 1955, NAACP member Rosa Parks was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama—this event is often noted as the catalyst for the largest grassroots civil rights movement in the United States.
The NAACP’s legacy of voting rights extended through the 1980s (in 1982 alone, NAACP workers registered 850,000 new voters), through the 1990s (in opposition to David Duke, an avowed racist seeking election to the U.S. Senate, 76 percent of all registered African Americans in Louisiana voted), and into the new millennium (in January 2000, the largest civil rights demonstration ever held in the South occurred in South Carolina in opposition to the official flying of ‘‘Old Glory’’—the Confederate Battle Flag; and for the 2000 presidential election, the NAACP facilitated the largest turnout of African American voters in over twenty years).
In keeping with its history of advocacy and opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominees who do not promote the NAACP’s vision of equality and justice for all (which the organization began in 1930 against nominee John Parker), in 1991, the NAACP opposed President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Thurgood Marshall.
By 2004, the NAACP had more than 500,000 members, and operated through more than 2,200 branches, including youth and college divisions.
CYNTHIA G. HAWKINS-LEO` N
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Freedom of Association; NAACP v. Alabama Ex Rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963)