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In 1914, the Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP was formed in the home of Drs. John and Vada Somerville, both graduates of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, and active leaders in the affairs of the black community. Among the founding members were E. Burton Ceruti, who was to serve as the organization's legal advisor, Charles Alexander, John Shackelford, Betty Hill, Reverend Joseph Johnson and W.T. Cleghorn. They elected as president Dr. Charles Edward Block, who served with distinction for eight years.
The branch began immediately addressing mounting concerns about racial discrimination and second-class treatment of the city's Colored" citizens, and serving as the principal political leadership in the black community.
Contemporaneous World War I, the branch seized upon the national shortage of nurses to press for reversal of an early decision by the County Supervisors to bar "colored students" from the training school for nurses at Los Angeles County Hospital. Appealing to patriotic sentiment, if not moral rights, the NAACP pointed out that, but for the discriminatory ruling, black nurses could have been saving lives in Europe. The branch's success with this issue launched it into the forefront of the fight against racial discrimination.
It was during this period, too, in 1919, that the first Black, Frederick Madison Roberts, was elected to the California State Assembly, triumphing over vicious opposition that included campaign literature stating, my opponent is a nigger."
In 1924, the Los Angeles branch elected Dr. H. Claude Hudson, a local dentist and civic leader, as president. Dr.Hudson led the organization for ten consecutive years. It was during Dr. Hudson's tenure that the branch hosted the 19th Annual NAACP Convention, the first to be held in Los Angeles. IN 1932, in the aftermath of an earthquake which damaged Los Angeles public schools, the branch-filed a successful lawsuit against the Monrovia School Board to force them to give black students the same consideration as white students who were allowed to enroll in that city until Los Angeles schools could be made safe.
Over the next fifteen years, with Attorney Thomas L. Griffith Jr. at the helm, the branch aggressively fought back against discrimination on several fronts. Lawsuits were mounted - and won - forcing the Pasadena Department of Parks to allow Black and Mexican citizens the right to swim daily in the municipal pool; against the County of Los Angeles for discrimination in employment; and a landmark decision in 1948 in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unconstitutional restrictive real estate covenants which precluded Black residency in certain neighborhoods.
With its membership growing rapidly, the Los Angeles branch in 1963, the Los Angeles Unified School District was ordered by the Supreme Court in 1976 to implement a school desegregation plan. Five years later, the branch again went on the offensive in a protracted battle against a state constitutional amendment that sought to undermine the Supreme Court decision by restricting the transport of students away from their "home" school.
In the 1980' 8, the branch adopted a more aggressive stance on issues affecting the economic development of the black community. Successful "Black Dollar Day" campaigns underscored the importance of the black consumer market; the branch successfully lobbied for a MetroRail Subway Station that would directly impact the black community, and supported efforts to rescind a County proposal to contract out jobs held by county workers. Under the leadership of one of the branch's youngest presidents, John T. McDonald, III, the branch successfully pressed for Fair Share agreements with Coors Brewing Company and McDonald's Restaurants.
Currently, the branch continues to support the programs and policies of the NAACP with aggressive action at the local level. In addition to ongoing initiatives in the areas of civil rights and social and economic development, local priorities revolve around the theme of education. Through an Annual Salute to Educational Excellence the branch encourages and recognizes educational achievement. Working in close concert with the local Black Leadership Coalition on Education, the branch has also taken the lead as an advocate with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for the development of programs addressing the issues of integration, overcrowding and low achievement among black and minority students.
The NAACP seeks to eliminate harsh and unfair sentencing practices that are responsible for mass incarceration and racial disparities in the prison system.
The US currently has the largest prison population in the world – 1 in 100 citizens is behind bars.When incarceration is used as the primary response to social problems, individuals, families and communities suffer. The NAACP calls for policy and administrative changes that will:
The NAACP supports an increase in trust and public safety by advancing effective law enforcement practices.
The NAACP has been involved in informing effective law enforcement practices since its inception. In 1910, the NAACP took on its first legal action in defense of Pink Franklin, a poor, African American sharecropper who had attempted to protect his home against an illegal police raid. Unfortunately, 100 years later, fundamental issues that erode trust and public safety between law enforcement and African Americans and other communities of color continue to exist. The Effective Law Enforcement campaign works to:
The NAACP is committed to the restoration of the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people and the removal of barriers to employment.
As more than 600,000 individuals leave U.S. prisons each year, our communities continue to grapple with the unique challenges presented by those who ostensibly have “paid their debt to society,” yet face barriers to re-entry that effectively continue their punishment. Today, our nation’s returning citizens face significant and numerous barriers to finding housing and employment, regaining custody of their children, receiving personal loans or financial aid toward school, voting and possessing other basic resources needed to rebuild their lives. The NAACP calls for polices and practices that
The NAACP is committed to elevating the voices of crime victim survivors in order to identify and advance systemic breakdowns existing in the criminal justice system that perpetuate crime.
Although African Americans and other people of color represent 49% of all homicide victims in the country, their voices are underrepresented in setting policy that curtails violent crime. As long as the voices of African Americans and other people of color are not being heard regarding methods to systematically address violent crimes, our ability to successfully address high crime rates and public safety remains limited. Elevating the progressive voices of crime victims will include:
Dr. Vada Somerville and Dr. John Somerville.
Founded February 12, 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s foremost, largest, and most widely recognized civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, leading grassroots campaigns for equal opportunity and conducting voter mobilization.
In 1908, a deadly race riot rocked the city of Springfield, the capital of Illinois and resting place of President Abraham Lincoln. Such eruptions of anti-black violence – particularly lynching – were horrifically commonplace, but the Springfield riot was the final tipping point that led to the creation of the NAACP. Appalled at this rampant violence, a group of white liberals that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard (both the descendants of famous abolitionists), William English Walling and Dr. Henry Moscowitz issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice. Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.
Echoing the focus of Du Bois’ Niagara Movement for civil rights, which began in 1905, the NAACP’s aimed to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively. Accordingly, the NAACP’s mission was and is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of United States and eliminate race prejudice. The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes.
The NAACP established its national office in New York City in 1910 and named a board of directors as well as a president, Moorfield Storey, a white constitutional lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association. Other early members included Joel and Arthur Spingarn, Josephine Ruffin, Mary Talbert, Inez Milholland, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Sophonisba Breckinridge, John Haynes Holmes, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Henry White, Charles Edward Russell, John Dewey, William Dean Howells, Lillian Wald, Charles Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, Fanny Garrison Villard, and Walter Sachs. Despite a foundational commitment to multiracial membership, Du Bois was the only African American among the organization’s original executives. He was made director of publications and research and in 1910 established the official journal of the NAACP, The Crisis.
W.E.B. Du Bois founded The Crisis magazine in 1910 as the premier crusading voice for civil rights. Originally subtitled, “A Record of the Darker Races,” The Crisis was a groundbreaking outlet for discussing critical issues confronting the African American community and sharing the intellectual and artistic work of people of color. In its first decade, The Crisis focused on vital issues like lynching and World War I. From 1920-1921, Du Bois also published a children’s edition of The Crisis, called The Brownies’ Book, the first periodical exclusively for black youth in American history.
In time, The Crisis became a voice of the Harlem Renaissance, as Du Bois published works by Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and other famous African American literary figures. In 1928, expanding the magazine’s artistic reach, Du Bois founded Krigwa Players (CRIGWA: Crisis Guild of Writers and Artists) to foster theater production about, by, for, and near the African American community.
Now published quarterly, The Crisis remains the official publication of the NAACP and is the NAACP’s articulate partner in the struggle for human rights for people of color. A respected journal of thought, opinion and analysis, The Crisis continues to explore past and present issues concerning race and its impact on educational, economic, political, social, moral, and ethical issues. In addition, each issue is highlighted with a special section, “The NAACP Today” reporting the news and events of the NAACP on a local and national level.
By 1913, with a strong emphasis on local organizing, the NAACP had established branch offices in such cities as Boston, MA, Baltimore, MD, Kansas City, MO, St. Louis, MO, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, MI. NAACP membership grew rapidly, from around 9,000 in 1917 to around 90,000 in 1919, with more than 300 local branches.
Joel Spingarn, a professor of literature and one of the NAACP founders formulated much of the strategy that fostered much of the organization’s growth. He was elected board chairman of the NAACP in 1915 and served as president from 1929-1939. Writer and diplomat James Weldon Johnson became the Association’s first black executive secretary in 1920, and Louis T. Wright, a surgeon, was named the first black board chairman in 1934.
A series of early court battles, including a victory against a discriminatory Oklahoma law that regulated voting by means of a grandfather clause (Guinn v. United States, 1910), helped establish the NAACP’s importance as a legal advocate. The fledgling organization also learned to harness the power of publicity through its 1915 battle against D. W. Griffith’s inflammatory Birth of a Nation, a motion picture that perpetuated demeaning stereotypes of African Americans and glorified the Ku Klux Klan.
Among the Association’s top priorities was eradicating lynching. Throughout its 30-year campaign, the NAACP waged legislative battles, gathered and published crucial statistics, organized mass protests, and produced artistic material all in the name of bringing an end to the violence. After early worries about its constitutionality, the NAACP strongly supported the federal Dyer Bill, which would have punished those who participated in or failed to prosecute lynch mobs. Though the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill, a Senate filibuster defeated it for good in 1922. Despite repeated opportunities in years to follow, such as the Costigan-Wagner Bill, Congress never passed any anti-lynching legislation. Many credit the NAACP report “Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1919” and the public debate that followed with drastically decreasing the incidence of lynching.
In 1930, Walter F. White succeeded Johnson as executive secretary. White was instrumental not only in his research on lynching (in part because, as a very fair-skinned African American, he had been able to infiltrate white groups), but also in his successful block of segregationist Judge John J. Parker’s nomination by President Herbert Hoover to the U.S. Supreme Court.
White presided over the NAACP’s most productive period of legal advocacy. In 1930 the association commissioned the Margold Report, which became the basis for the successful reversal of the separate-but-equal doctrine that had governed public facilities since Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In 1935, White recruited Charles H. Houston as NAACP chief counsel. Houston was the Howard University law school dean whose strategy on school-segregation cases paved the way for his protégé Thurgood Marshall to prevail in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that overturned Plessy.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, which was disproportionately disastrous for African Americans, the NAACP began to focus on economic justice. After years of tension with white labor unions, the Association cooperated with the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations in an effort to win jobs for black Americans. White, a friend and adviser to First Lady – and NAACP national board member – Eleanor Roosevelt, met with her often in attempt to convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to outlaw job discrimination in the armed forces, defense industries, and the agencies created by the New Deal.
Roosevelt ultimately agreed to open thousands of jobs to black workers when labor leader A. Philip Randolph, in collaboration with the NAACP, threatened a national March on Washington movement in 1941. President Roosevelt also set up a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to ensure compliance.
Throughout the 1940s, the NAACP saw enormous growth in membership, recording roughly 600,000 members by 1946. It continued to act as a legislative and legal advocate, pushing for a federal anti-lynching law and for an end to state-mandated segregation.
By the 1950s the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, headed by Marshall, secured the last of these goals through Brown v. Board of Education(1954), which outlawed segregation in public schools. The NAACP’s Washington, D.C., bureau, led by lobbyist Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., helped advance not only integration of the armed forces in 1948 but also passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1964, and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite such dramatic courtroom and congressional victories, the implementation of civil rights was a slow, painful, and oft times violent process. The unsolved 1951 murder of Harry T. Moore, an NAACP field secretary in Florida whose home was bombed on Christmas night, and his wife was just one of many crimes of retribution against the NAACP and its staff and members. NAACP Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers and his wife Myrlie also became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home was firebombed and later Medgar was assassinated by a sniper in front of their residence. Violence also met black children attempting to enter previously segregated schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, and other southern cities.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s echoed the NAACP’s goals, but leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, felt that direct action was needed to obtain them. Although the NAACP was criticized for working too rigidly within the system, prioritizing legislative and judicial solutions, the Association did provide legal representation and aid to members of other protest groups over a sustained period of time. The NAACP even posted bail for hundreds of Freedom Riders in the ‘60s who had traveled to Mississippi to register black voters and challenge Jim Crow policies.
Led by Roy Wilkins, who succeeded Walter White as secretary in 1955, the NAACP collaborated with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and other national organizations to plan the historic 1963 March on Washington. The following year, the Association accomplished what seemed an insurmountable task: the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Assisting the NAACP throughout the years were many celebrities and well-known leaders, including Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Jackie Robinson, Harry Belafonte. As an NAACP director of branches, Ella Baker stressed the importance of young people and women in the organization by recruiting members, raising money, and organizing local campaigns. Daisy Bates served as an NAACP national board member, Arkansas state conference president and advisor to the Little Rock Nine. NAACP stalwart Kivie Kaplan, a businessman and philanthropist from Boston, served as president of the NAACP from 1966 until 1975, personally led nationwide NAACP Life Membership efforts, and fought to keep African Americans away from illegal drugs.
As de facto racial segregation remained and job discrimination lingered and urban poverty and crime increased, NAACP advocacy and action remained critical for the African American community.
In 1977, Wilkins retired and was replaced by Benjamin L. Hooks – the first leader of the NAACP to be titled “executive director” instead of “executive secretary.” During his fifteen year term, Dr. Hooks implemented many NAACP programs that continue today, such as Women in the NAACP and NAACP ACT-SO (Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) competitions. Additionally, his term included the Bakke case (1978), in which a California court outlawed several aspects of affirmative action.
In the 1990s, the NAACP struggled to find a leader who could replace the prolific Dr. Hooks. In 1993, Benjamin F. Chavis (now Chavis Muhammad) became executive director/CEO. In 1995, Myrlie Evers-Williams (widow of Medgar Evers) became the third woman to chair the NAACP, a position she held until she was succeeded by Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond in 1998. In 1996, the National Board of Directors selected Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and head of the Congressional Black Caucus, to serve as president and CEO. In doing so, the board changed the name of the leadership position once more and eliminated the elected office of president.
The NAACP entered the 21st century reinvigorated and, in 2000, launched a massive get-out-the-vote campaign. As a result, 1 million more African Americans cast their ballots in the 2000 presidential election than in 1996.
The NAACP’s initiatives for the 21st century can best be summarized by its six “Game Changers”: economic sustainability, education, health, public safety and criminal justice, voting rights and political representation, and expanding youth and young adult engagement.
Recent leaders have included Bruce S. Gordon, Benjamin Todd Jealous, Dennis Courtland Hayes, and Cornell William Brooks. Presently, Derrick Johnson serves as President and CEO, and Leon W. Russell serves as chairman of the National Board of Directors.
Yet the real story of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization lies in the hearts and minds of all those who refused to stand idly while race prejudice tarnished our nation. From bold investigations of mob brutality, protests of mass murders, segregation and discrimination, to testimony before congressional committees on the vicious tactics used to bar African Americans from the ballot box, it was the talent and tenacity of NAACP members that saved lives and made change.
While much of NAACP history is chronicled in books, articles, pamphlets, and magazines, the true movement lies in the faces of the multiracial, multigenerational army of ordinary men and women who united to awaken the consciousness of a people and a nation. With such a powerful membership base, all 2,200 chapters of the Association continue to persevere. Together, the
NAACP will remain vigilant in its mission until the promise of America is made real for all Americans.
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