NAACP

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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Founded in 1909, the organization formerly known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and now called simply NAACP is the oldest and largest CIVIL RIGHTS organization in the United States. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, with a staff of more than 220 persons, the interracial NAACP works for the elimination of RACIAL DISCRIMINATION through LOBBYING, legal action, and education. With its victories in landmark Supreme Court cases such as BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), as well as its sponsorship of grassroots social programs, the NAACP has been a leader in the effort to guarantee that African Americans and members of other racial minorities receive EQUAL PROTECTION under the law.

The NAACP grew out of race riots that occurred in Springfield, Illinois, in August 1908. Shocked at the violence directed against African Americans by white mobs in Abraham Lincoln's hometown, William English Walling, a white socialist, wrote a magazine article that called for the formation of a group to come to the aid of African Americans. The following year, Walling met with two young white social workers, Mary White Ovington and Henry Moskowitz, and began planning a course of action. They enlisted the aid of Oswald Garrison Villard, grandson of the abolitionist WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, to publicize the Conference on the Status of the Negro, to be held that May. The conference drew several hundred people, many of whom would unite a year later as the NAACP.

Although originally the NAACP leadership was largely white, since the 1920s, it has been primarily African American. The organization drew many of its original white members from progressive and socialist ranks, and most of its first African American members through the leadership of the historian and sociologist W. E. B. DU BOIS. Du Bois and BOOKER T. WASHINGTON were the two principal African American leaders of the day. Du Bois had led the Niagara Movement, an African American protest organization, since 1905, and he brought the membership of that organization into the NAACP. He was named director of publicity and research for the NAACP in 1910, and he edited the organization's highly respected journal, The Crisis, until 1934.

From the beginning, the NAACP made legal action on behalf of African Americans a top priority. It won early Supreme Court victories in Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347, 35 S. Ct. 926, 59 L. Ed. 1340 (1915), which overturned the GRANDFATHER CLAUSE as a means of disfranchising black voters, and in Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 38 S. Ct. 16, 62 L. Ed. 149 (1917), which barred municipal ordinances requiring racial SEGREGATION in housing. The grandfather clause imposed a literacy test on persons who were not entitled to vote prior to 1866. This meant that all slaves and their descendants had to pass a rigorous literacy test based on knowledge

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of the state constitution and other highly technical documents. Few, if any, African Americans passed the test.

The NAACP appointed its first African American executive director, JAMES WELDON JOHNSON, in 1920. Under Johnson and his successor, Walter White, who led the organization from 1931 to 1955, the NAACP worked for the passage of a federal antilynching law. Although unsuccessful in its efforts to pass a federal law, the NAACP brought public attention to the brutality of LYNCHING and helped to significantly reduce its occurrence. As a result, lynching?which is the infliction of punishment, usually hanging, by a mob without trial?is now illegal in every state.

In 1941 the NAACP established its Washington, D.C., bureau as the legislative advocacy and lobbying arm of the organization. The bureau does the strategic planning and coordination of NAACP political action and legislation program. It acts as the liaison between NAACP units and government agencies, and it coordinates the work of other organizations that support NAACP programs and proposals.

The bureau sponsors the annual Legislative Mobilization which informs participants of the...

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