Introduction

Have you helped get an unfair rule or policy changed? Maybe you convinced your school to update its dress code, or you talked your local soup kitchen into staying open an hour later. You spoke to authority figures constantly, spent days putting together flawless arguments, and now this change you’ve fought for is put into writing. You feel elated that all your hard work has finally paid off.

Only it hasn’t. You see, everyone’s ignoring the new policy. Teachers still write up students for old dress code violations. The soup kitchen’s doors are closed an hour before they’re supposed to be. You quickly realize that these new rules mean nothing if they aren’t enforced.

Explanation

The NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, rose up under similar circumstances and quickly became America’s largest civil rights organization. Their vision was to secure equality of rights and eliminate race-based discrimination in political, social, educational, and economic sectors, as well as ensure the health and well-being of all.  The organization continues to work towards this goal by making use of the judicial system, lobbying, and peaceful demonstrations.

The NAACP

The NAACP was established in 1909 with the mission of ensuring all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race and guaranteeing the health and well-being of all people. It is now America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

The History

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution promised an end to slavery, equal protection of the law, and universal male suffrage, respectively. However, these amendments weren’t being enforced. In the wake of ongoing nationwide violence against African Americans, activists across New York worked together to build an organization that would make those promises of equal rights a reality.

Early members of the organization included social workers, journalists, labor reformers, suffragists, and intellectuals from all walks of life. Many of these first members were involved in the Niagara Movement, a civil rights group led by sociologist and writer W.E.B. Du Bois in 1905. 

The NAACP proved to be a major player in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. They provided legal representation as well as aid to members of other civil rights groups that protested for a sustained period. The 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education was able to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in part because of the NAACP’s funding and involvement. NAACP member Thurgood Marshall was the attorney who successfully argued the case before the court, convincing the justices to move away from segregated schools. Marshall went on to assist in other civil rights cases related to unequal access to housing and voting rights. The NAACP also posted bail for many Freedom Riders in the 1960s who made their way to Mississippi in order to challenge Jim Crow policies.

For change to really stick, though, the NAACP knew they needed to secure a voice for marginalized communities. That’s why they worked tirelessly to speak out against injustices and pressure leaders into making social reforms. The NAACP was also pivotal in organizing the March on Washington, one of the largest civil rights rallies in American history. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination of all kinds, were both successful outcomes from the work of the NAACP. Perhaps one of their most vital efforts was banning “grandfather clauses.” These clauses allowed for men to vote only if their grandfather had cast ballots in elections before the Reconstruction. Other voting centers had mandatory literacy tests, which only passed white citizens. The NAACP won Guinn v. United States in 1915, ruling that such discriminatory voting practices were unconstitutional.

Why Care?

To this day, the NAACP is a powerful organization in the fight against racial injustice. In 2000, the NAACP launched a large-scale campaign encouraging African Americans to vote. As a result of this campaign, one million more Black voters turned out in 2000 than did in 1996. When Barack Obama became the first Black president of the U.S. in 2009, he spoke at the NAACP’s 100th-anniversary celebration. He recognized both the strength of the group and the importance of its mission. The organization now stands firm as the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country.

Currently, the NAACP is focused on issues such as inequalities in healthcare, education, jobs, voting rights, and the criminal justice system. They have pushed for more specific changes throughout the U.S., including the elimination of the Confederate flag and statues depicting racist figures from public spaces.  In the fall of 2011, the NAACP came out with six “Game Changers” to facilitate the organization’s initiatives for the next century: expanding youth and adult engagement, economic sustainability, health, education, public safety and criminal justice, and lastly, voting rights and political representation. Like many other civil rights organizations, the NAACP believes that it is everyday citizens like us that play crucial roles in social justice. Change starts with the individual. Now that you know the NAACP and its history, be sure to use your voice as we move forward in the fight for racial equality.

    Learn More

    1. Ivan Penn. “N.A.A.C.P. Tells Local Chapters: Don’t Let Energy Industry Manipulate You”. NYTimes.com, NY Times. 5, Jan. 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/05/business/energy-environment/naacp-utility-donations.html?auth=login-email&login=email.
    2. History.com Editors. “History on the NAACP”. History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/civil-rights-movement/naacp.
    3. History.com. “How the NAACP Fights Racial Discrimination”. Youtube History Channel, A&E Television Networks, 12, Feb. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXi2lM7-NB8.

     

    Think Further

    1. Why do you think the NAACP chooses to go directly through the judicial system and legal processes in order to create change?
    2. What are some of the impacts of the NAACP’s work that you see in the world today?
    3. How can you, as an individual, take action in the fight against racial discrimination in the United States?

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