National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People

[Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is America's largest and best known grassroots civil rights organization. This overview covers the NAACP from its founding up through the end of the 1960s.]


Federal Anti-Lynching Law Campaign
The Great Depression
  FDR and the New Deal
  DuBois Challenges the Leadership
  NAACP Legal Department & LDF
World War II
  The 1941 March on Washington
  Double-V Campaign
  Port Chicago Mutiny Case
Post-War Era
  An Appeal to the World
  President Truman's Executive Orders
The 1950s
  Brown v. Board of Education
  Bus Boycotts
  Attack on the NAACP
The 1960s
The NAACP Today
Additional Information Resources
References & Quotation Sources

[See Language, Terminology & Acronyms for abbreviations used in this article.]


NAACP: Founding

Between 1890 and 1917, an interracial movement of Blacks and whites rises to challenge the corporate robber barons and Wall Street tycoons who dominate the America economy and American politics. Known as "Populists" or "Progressives" they demand the right to form labor unions, an 8-hour day and 40-hour work-week, federal regulation of monopolies, a graduated income tax to finance public necessities, direct-election of Senators, and a postal savings system to compete with the banks.

To counter, split, and eventually destroy these movements, northern business interests and southern segregationists use the mass media, political oratory, and church pulpits, to incite a wave of race-hatred, bigotry, and fear among whites. Though primarily directed against African Americans, their divide-and-conquer campaign also targets Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, and Jews (and to a degree, also Italians and other "undesirable" European ethnic groups).

As Dr. King put it in his How Long? Not Long speech on the Alabama Capitol steps at the end of the 1965 March to Montgomery:

"The segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. ... Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. That is what was known as the Populist Movement. The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

Through their control of mass media, [the Bourbons] revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century." [1]

This deliberate turn-of-the-century incitement of race-hatred results in a flood of new segregation laws, the massive disenfranchisement of nonwhite voters, false arrests and chain-gang enslavement, and a wave of terrorist violence against nonwhites — beatings, rapes, and lynchings.

The most horrific manifestations of this politically incited white-terrorism are what the newsmedia call "race riots" — white mobs raging through African American towns and communities, beating, looting, murdering, destroying homes, burning businesses, and bombing churches. Between 1890 and formation of the NAACP, just some of many typical examples include:

In the rural South and Midwest, the reign of terror triggers a massive new wave of African American migration to the urban North as families seek to escape violence, segregation, economic deprivation, and Jim Crow humiliations. But in northern cities they find the ghetto system of residential segregation, police and vigilante violence, employment discrimination, political corruption, educational inequality, and social isolation.

In 1905, Black intellectuals and political activists respond to the worsening crisis by forming the Niagara Movement. (Named for the mighty river, not the location of their founding meeting which had to be moved from Buffalo NY to Ontario Canada because of threats by white racists.)

"We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselves alone but for all true Americans. It is a fight for ideals, lest this, our common fatherland, false to its founding, become in truth the land of the thief and the home of the slave — a byword and a hissing among the nations for its sounding pretensions and pitiful accomplishment." — Niagara Movement founding statement. [2]

Small Niagara Movement chapters totalling less than 200 members are formed in 21 African American communities. With scant funding, little support from influential whites, and adamant opposition from prominent "accomodationist" Negro leaders like Booker T. Washington, the organization makes little headway.

Horrified by the 1908 Springfield atrocity, 53 predominantly white social activists, intellectuals, Christian and Jewish religious leaders join with W.E.B DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Rev. Francis Grimke to publish a call on February 12 (the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth) to form an interracial organization committed to actively opposing racism, segregation, and white terrorism.

In May of 1909, Niagara Movement leaders and authors of the February call organize a National Negro Committee conference in New York City which adopts a Platform of principles and programs that are closely aligned with the Niagara Movement program. A Committee of 40 is tasked with establishing a permanent national organization committed to voicing protests and renewing the struggle for civil and political liberty in America. [3]

The following year, in 1910, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is formally chartered, with "Colored" replacing "Negro" in its name to reflect the realities of American racism and the broad scope of the organization's commitment to fight for racial justice.

"That the principal objects for which the corporation is formed are voluntarily to promote equality of rights and eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States: to advance the interests of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for their children, employment according to their ability, and complete equality before the law." — NAACP Articles of Incorporation. [4]

In clear and direct opposition to the accomodationist strategies advocated by Booker T. Washington and other established leaders, the newly formed NAACP commits itself to actively pursuing its goals through legal action, political lobbying, public education, the ballot box, and peaceful protest.

The NAACP is structured with a strong central leadership based in New York City. Dues-paying members are organized into chapters known as "branches." The organization's policy, direction, and campaigns are set at an annual convention of delegates under the leadership and administration of the national office. Branches support national campaigns, raise-funds, recruit new members, and address local issues.

Once sufficient funds have been raised, NAACP leader W.E.B. Du Bois founds The Crisis as the NAACP's primary national-level publication. It's name is inspired by abolitionist James Lowell's 1845 poem opposing the U.S. war against Mexico, The Present Crisis.

In addition to fiercely advocating for racial justice, social equality, political enfranchisement, and economic opportunity, DuBois shapes The Crisis into a leading voice of Black culture and the Harlem Renaissance, publishing works by Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and other African American authors. [5]

Soon the NAACP has branch offices in northern urban centers. Individual organizers and small groups operate semi-clandestinely in the South. At the end of its first decade in 1919 — an era of ferocious, legally-sanctioned racism and savage racial violence — the NAACP has grown to roughly 90,000 dues-paying members in close to 400 branches.

Through public advocacy, political lobbying, court cases, and electoral action in places where African Americans are able to vote, the newly formed NAACP condemns and opposes Jim Crow laws and segregation, provides support to nonwhites suffering from racism, bigotry, and persecution, and fights for nonwhite voting rights — a campaign that continues to this day.

On the judicial front, NAACP members convince a U.S. Attorney to file Guinn v. United States, the first Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case in which the NAACP submits a brief. It's the beginning of a long and arduous campaign to defend the voting rights of nonwhite citizens. In 1915, the NAACP scores a significant victory when SCOTUS rules in Guinn to strike down the "Grandfather" clauses of the Oklahoma and Maryland constitutions on grounds that they deny African Americans the voting rights guaranteed under 15th Amendment. [6]

In the public arena, the new organization takes a leading role in condemning D.W. Griffith's inflammatory film Birth of a Nation which is enormously popular among white audiences. Based on the The Clansman — the novel that helped incite the 1906 Atlanta massacre — the film promulgates viciously racist and derogatory stereotypes of Blacks and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan as heroes defending white women and white supremacy against ignorant, depraved, and sexually aggressive subhumans. [7]


NAACP: Federal Anti-Lynching Law

Between 1901 and 1929, more than a thousand African Americans are known to have been lynched in the South — an average of three horrific murders per month. If it were possible to count the many unreported lynchings, the total number would no doubt be far higher.

[In this context, lynching refers to murders committed by two or more civilians acting in concert and motivated by racial, religious, political, or cultural bigotry. It excludes killings by on-duty law-enforcement officers. Under this definition, the number of killers could range from as few as two to mobs numbering in the tens of thousands. While hanging was a common method, so too were beating, shooting, stabbing, drowning, burning, and other forms of mayhem.]

During the first three decades of its existence, the NAACP's main focus is opposing lynching, mob violence, and white terrorism, through public awareness and condemnation, legal defense of nonwhites framed on false charges, judicial action against complicit law enforcement and government agencies, and above all a campaign to make lynching a federal crime. [9]

[In American law, murders are usually investigated and prosecuted under state laws by local law enforcement and county district attorneys. Federal murder law only applies when the killing takes place at a location under federal jurisdiction such as a national park or military base. So without a federal anti-lynch law, the arrest and prosecution of Klan assassins and killer-mobs was (and still is) in the hands of officials elected by the killer's community, friends, neighbors, and family — communities where at that time Blacks were rarely allowed to vote. Communities where whites often supported and sanctioned violence against nonwhites to keep them in their place. Racially-motivated violence by whites against nonwhites was seldom investigated by state or local authorities, arrests and prosecutions were rare, and convictions and punishments practically unheard of. Which meant that violent white-supremacists knew they could beat, burn, maim, rape, and murder with complete impunity.]

In the first half of the 20th Century, white-owned newspapers rarely report lynchings, often not even ones that occur in their local area. So while most white Americans outside of the South in that era have heard some mention of lynching, few have any real grasp of how widespread and how horrific they are. Since close to 90% of all lynchings occur in the South, white southerners are more knowledgeable about lynching than northerners, some have participated in one, more know someone else who has, and the majority accept lynch-law as a regrettable necessity for keeping the Black population docile and appropriately subservient.

In the 1890s, journalist and reformer Ida B. Wells, the Afro-American League (AAL), and the National Equal Rights Council (NERC), campaign for a federal anti-lynching law. After its founding in 1909, the NAACP joins, and soon comes to lead that fight, arguing that mob murders and assaults violate the victim's constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment.

Articles in Black-owned newspapers, The Crisis and other publications, and local activities by NAACP branches, inform and alert the African American community. Through auditorium rallies, church oratory, petitions and letters, vigils, small protests, and mass marches in Northeastern cities (some of them silent memorials) they educate the white public.

Prior to First World War, American culture is still deeply affected by memories of the Civil War. In the northern and midwestern states from which the Union Army was drawn, white awareness of and opposition to lynching slowly begins to grow. But in the southern states, whites become increasingly wedded to their necessary evil justifications. They respond to northern anti-lynching sentiments by building more, and ever more lavish, Confederate War memorials lauding the heroes and myths of their "lost cause" (slavery).

In April of 1917, the United States enters the WWI — 'The war to make the world safe for democracy." Yet the American military remains thoroughly segregated. In the Army, white officers command all-Black units. The Navy restricts nonwhites to only the most menial roles and the Marines won't admint nonwhites in any role. The home front is no different:

"Although there were no specific segregation provisions outlined in the draft legislation, blacks were told to tear off one corner of their registration cards so they could easily be identified and inducted separately. Now instead of turning blacks away, the draft boards were doing all they could to bring them into service, southern draft boards in particular. One Georgia county exemption board discharged forty-four percent of white registrants on physical grounds and exempted only three percent of black registrants based on the same requirements. It was fairly common for southern postal workers to deliberately withhold the registration cards of eligible black men and have them arrested for being draft dodgers. African American men who owned their own farms and had families were often drafted before single white employees of large planters. Although comprising just ten percent of the entire United States population, blacks supplied thirteen percent of inductees." —  National Museum of the United States Army

More than 700,000 Blacks and uncounted thousands of Latinos, Indians, and Asians serve in the American armed forces, fighting and dying for a democracy they and their families do not have at home. Though lynching is still the NAACP's primary focus, they also oppose military and government segregation and demand (without success) that nonwhites be hired in defense industry jobs.

As the war in Europe rages on, white lynch mobs continue to rampage across the South — including a savage outbreak in East St. Louis IL that leaves between 40 and 150 African Americans dead and more than 6,000 burned out of their homes. As the NAACP-led anti-lynching movement grows in strength, President Wilson — who is himself a segregationist — is compelled in mid-1918 to issue a proclamation denouncing lynching. He says it dishonors the nation and weakens the war effort. He "solemnly begs" state governors and law enforcement to end lynching. But he does not call for, or even suggest, any federal role in protecting the constitutional rights of nonwhite Americans.

Until 1918, no member of Congress (all of whom are white, of course) is willing to even introduce a federal anti-lynching law. Finally, as the war drags on, Leonidas Dyer, a progressive, white, Missouri Republican representing a district with a majority-Black population, agrees in 1918 to introduce an anti-lynch law in the House. It provides that:

The House refuses to pass the Dyer bill in 1918 (65th Congress).

They again refuse to pass it in the next Congress (the 66th).

In 1919, the NAACP publishes Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918, a detailed 110-page report on more than 3,200 known lynchings — 2,834 in the South, 219 in the North, and 156 in the West. (By definition, unreported or concealed racial killings cannot be counted, but the number of people lynched and then disposed of in rivers and unmarked graves is significant.) For the first time, those white Americans who are willing to look can grasp the full scope of lynch-law violence. [8]

African American delegates to the Republican Party party's 1920 convention convince them to include support for a federal anti-lynching law in the platform. They campaign for Warren Harding, the party's nominee. Harding wins, retaking the White House from Democratic control. In 1922, Dyer reintroduces his anti-lynching bill for the 67th Congress. It passes the Republican-controlled House by vote of 231 to 119. But segregationist Democrats in the Senate threaten to filibuster it. It dies in the Senate without a vote. Dyer continues to introduce his bill in each subsequent session of Congress but suppoerts cannot overcome a Senate filibuster that allows one-third of senators to unilaterally block any legislation that they dislike.

In 1935, six years into the Great Depression and two years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) takes office and launches his New Deal reforms, Democratic Senators Wagner and Costigan introduce a new anti-lynching bill into the Senate. It is similar to the Dyer Bill — but with significantly reduced penalties.

The NAACP — which had campaigned for Roosevelt —  mobilizes its 378 branches to build public support and lobby their members of Congress to enact the bill. NAACP leader Mary McLeod Bethune, who becomes a presidential advisor on "Negro Affairs," urges the president to support it. So does First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who is an NAACP member, a staunch opponent of lynching, and a dedicated defender of civil rights and racial equality. But though FDR personally opposes lynching, he refuses their pleas to speak publicly in support of a federal anti-lynching law.

"If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, [southern Democrats] will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can't take the risk." — Franklin Roosevelt. [10]

The House fails to pass the Wagner-Costigan bill.

After Roosevelt's landslide reelection victory in 1936 (carrying 46 of the 48 states), Senators Wagner and Van Nuys and Representative Gavagan submit a revised and further weakened version of their anti-lynching bill. It passes the House 277 to 120. Led by Tom Connally (D-TX), southern Democrats filibuster for seven weeks in the Senate to block it. Day after day, First Lady Eleanor sits in the Senate gallery silently rebuking and shaming them. But they and their filibuster prevail. In February of 1938 the bill dies on the Senate floor.

Almost every year thereafter, federal anti-lynching laws are proposed in Congress. Sometimes they fail to pass the House, other times they pass in the House only to be killed in the Senate by filibuster. Even during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s — and the decades thereafter — southern senators manage to block every attempt to pass a federal anti-lynching law.

[2022 Update: Some 130 years after the campaign for a federal anti-lynching law began in 1890, Congressman Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther, introduced the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act in the House. It was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in 2022. But rather than extending federal murder laws to cover mob violence as did the earlier bills proposed by the NAACP, it classified lynching as a federal "hate crime." Because hate crimes are based on motive, without some public admission of racial, religious, sexual, or other hate animus by the perpetrators, hate crime's are harder to prove than the act of committing a murder. And unlike the previous NAACP bills, the 2022 law contained no provisions for requiring local government to prevent lynching. Nor did it hold local authorities accountable for enabling a lynching or failing to prevent one. Lynching-related murder charges remain in the hands of state courts, local law-enforcement, and the local voters who elect the police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, and judges.]


NAACP: The Great Depression

By the mid-1920s, the economic disaster later known as the "Great Depression" is impacting nonwhites and poor whites long before affluent whites are affected. Increasing economic hardship and deprivation begin to grip Black communities while most of white America parties-on with the "Roaring 20s' — until the stock market collapse of 1929 brings economic chickens home to roost. [13]

In 1928, there are some eleven million African Americans living in the rural South. The great majority of them are tenant farmers precariously renting land from whites, sharecroppers debt-bound to the land under an American version of peonage, or brutally exploited itinerant or migrant farm hands enduring conditions reminiscent of slavery-days. Less than 10% of southern Blacks own (heavily mortgaged) land.

[For more on sharecroppers and tenant farmers see Slavery by Another Name on PBS.]

Between 1915 and 1930, roughly 1.5 million southern Blacks migrate to northern cities where the vast majority subsist as low-paid day-laborers, service workers, or domestic servants.

[For more on northern domestic workers see The Slave Market by Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke. The Crisis, November 1935.]

The lives of northern Blacks are circumscribed by segregated residential ghettos, racist police violence, and a rigid caste system of employment discrimination. But they do have some access to the ballot, and therefore the beginnings of a political constituency that Republican candidates and urban Democratic machines begin to court. [12]

In the presidential election of 1928, the boom times of the Roaring Twenties (for affluent whites) carry Republican candidate Herbert Hoover to an overwhelming victory. As has been the case for decades, two-thirds of those African Americans able to vote caste their ballots for Republicans (the "party of Lincoln') against Democrats (the party of white-supremacy and Jim Crow).

Eight months after Hoover takes office, the New York stock market crashes in October of 1929 — brought down by greed, speculation, and outright fraud. Banks fail. Since there's little regulation and no deposit-insurance, depositors loose their life-savings and small businesses go broke. International trade falls by 50%. Factory orders collapse and corporations lay off workers. It's a global economic catastrophe.

A quarter of the entire labor force (Black and white) becomes unemployed and there are no new jobs to be had. Nonwhites — last hired, first fired, lowest paid — suffer the worst poverty, homelessness, and hunger. Unemployment among people of color is significantly higher than among whites. In some cities, unemployment among formerly-employed African Americans reaches 60%. Unable to pay their rent, tenants are evicted. Homeowners who can't pay their mortgages are thrown into the streets, their homes snapped up for pennies-on-the-dollar by real estate speculators.

As The Great Depression spreads, commodity prices collapse, cotton drops to one-third of what farmers had previously been paid. Some crops can't be sold at all at any price. Banks foreclose on past-due mortgages and unpayable crop loans, throwing tens of thousands of landowners and hundreds of thousands of sharecroppers and tenant farmers off the land.

Republican free market dogma fiercely opposes any government role in regulating business or providing economic relief to those who are hungry and out of work. Hoover's main response to economic disaster is to hand out lavish loans to the largest corporations in the futile hope that they might rehire some workers (they don't). As famed humorist and social commentator Will Rogers observes, "The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes it would trickle down to the needy." Thus is born the term trickle-down economics which is still believed and beloved by Republican politicians.

The Great Depression profoundly affects Americans from all walks of life. Fundamental beliefs and assumptions about society are shaken to their core. With a quarter of the entire labor force unemployed, others under-employed, and the remainder facing an uncertain future, class anger and individual desperation rises. Labor unions begin to form among workers never before organized, tenants engage in rent-strikes, and farmers destroy their crops as acts of protest. Seeking scapegoats, white-supremacist violence swells. So too does resistance among nonwhites.

While there's only a small decline in the number of active NAACP branches, the number of dues-paying members — which had been steadily rising since the organization's founding — plummets as unemployment and poverty affect African Americans. Member-dues are the organization's financial foundation and as it strives to address the growing crises, it's weakened by its own economic hardship. [12]

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) is the nation's primary labor coalition. Most of its unions are thoroughly segregated, either barring nonwhites entirely, or maintaining separate and unequal white and nonwhite units. Though the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an all-Black union of low-wage workers, manages to win AFL affiliation in 1925, the majority of AFL unions represent workers in the better-paid, better-treated, whites-only, "skilled" occupations such as machinists, electricians, tool & die, and so on. These "craft unions" fiercely resist allowing nonwhite workers to enter their trades. Because of their refusal to accept nonwhites, the NAACP's relationship with most AFL unions is tense and adversarial.

The economic and social turmoil of the Great Depression splits the AFL. Unions seeking to organize and represent all workers at a factory regardless of their occupation, skills, race, or ethnicity, break away to form "industrial" unions under the umbrella of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). While racism remains a significant problem throughout organized labor, some CIO unions such as the United Auto Workers welcome nonwhites and to some degree address their specific grievances.

The NAACP begins cooperating with those CIO unions to obtain jobs for, and help organize, nonwhite workers — and also win union leadership positions. But with massive unemployment, a shrinking labor force, and anti-labor Republicans in control of government, unions are struggling just to survive and there are few job openings to be had.

1932 is an election year. After three years of the Great Depression and Republican refusal to take any meaningful federal action to create jobs or provide economic relief, and after Republican failure to enact an anti-lynch law and their tolerance of public graft and corruption, the NAACP supports Franklin Delano Roosevelt — a Democrat — for president (and with him, NAACP-member Eleanor Roosevelt for First Lady).

Yet despite the NAACP's support for FDR, most African American voters continue to cast their ballots for the "Party of Lincoln" against the "Party of Jim Crow." But in a massive landslide victory that overwhelmingly repudiates Hoover and Republican "do-nothingism," the American people as a whole elect FDR and shift both the Senate and the House to Democratic control.


FDR and the New Deal

In 1933, the new Roosevelt administration and the now Democratic-controlled Congress launch a broad "New Deal" for the American people that rejects Republican laissez faire and "small-government" dogmas. The New Deal focuses on the "Three Rs" of Reform, Relief, and Recovery — including financial reform, business regulation, federally-financed job, housing, health, education, and poverty programs, and domestic safety-net provisions such as Social Security.

Roosevelt's economic recovery programs provide some desperately needed relief. But they're crippled and strangled by an ultra-conservative Supreme Court (SCOTUS) that prioitizes corporate privileges and business profits above the human needs of the American people. As it has been for decades, SCOTUS in 1933 is totally dominated by Republican justices. They cripple and delay as much of the New Deal as they can. But over time, much of their obstructionism is eroded by a tidal wave of public support for the Three Rs.

Most New Deal programs have to be established through congressional legislation. But the filibuster-rule allows southern segregationists to control the Senate — and they are determined to maintain white-supremacy and the racial status quo at all costs. They insist that the southern systems of Jim Crow segregation and racial discrimination be applied nationwide to New Deal job-creation, housing, education, health, and other programs. They require that all programs be run by whites and that they be structured so that just the barest minimum of economic benefits flow to nonwhites. The result is that from their very inception many New Deal programs are infected by racism, discrimination, and segregation. Some typical examples of which include: [12]

In addition to continuing its public campaigns against lynching, segregation, and discrimination, the NAACP struggles to combat racial bias in New Deal programs. NAACP members bring complaints and report incidents to their local branches who investigate, advocate, and provide assistance while the national office fights in court and lobbies Congress and administration officials for redress of grievances.

NAACP national officers work with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and other progressive insiders urging President Roosevelt to expand benefits for nonwhites and end racial discrimination in New Deal programs. But against the legislative-death-power of southern filibusters their success is limited.

Yet there are some successes. In 1933, the number of Blacks enrolled in the CCC is minuscule, but consistent pressure from the NAACP and others force the CCC to admit an increasing number of nonwhites. So much so that by the end of 1940, some 200,000 young African American men have been enrolled.

Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, who is a former president of the NAACP's Chicago branch, does what he can to combat racial discrimination in programs under his authority — particularly the Public Works Administration (PWA) and its huge construction projects that include airports, seaports, dams, bridges, paved highways, schools, hospitals, libraries, and especially public housing. By 1933, some 200,000 African American men and women are employed on PWA projects and that number rises steadily through the years. Most PWA projects primarily benefit white communities and businesses, but at least some Black schools, community centers, and adult education facilities are built and operated.

While smaller than the expansive housing program advocated by the NAACP, the PWA does construct 51 public housing projects that provide homes to almost 30,000 low-income families — the first-ever federally-funded housing for low-income Americans. At a time when most of the poor dwell in dilapidated urban tenements or ramshackle rural shacks made of scrap wood and leaky tin roofs, apartments in brick buildings with glass windows, central-heating, and proper roofing are highly desired. As mandated by southern senators, the projects are all completely segregated, but Ickes does ensure that one-third of them (19) are for nonwhites.

[Public Works Administration (PWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) were different agencies set up under different legislation and separate leadership. The PWA contracted with private construction firms to build big projects. The WPA directly hired and paid unemployed Americans to work on mostly smaller, local projects such as parks and sidewalks, building-repairs, art and culture, training classes, and so on. Some African Americans were employed in both PWA and WPA projects.]

The Wagner Act — now known as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) — is a centerpiece of the New Deal. NAACP leaders urge that the new law cover all workers, contain provisions against racial discrimination, and exempt unions from state segregation laws so that Black and white members can be in the same union local. But in order to get the Wagner Act through the Senate, Roosevelt has to appease the southern bloc by excluding from the law's coverage heavily Black occupations like farm labor, sharecropping, and domestic service, and by omitting the racial-justice provisions demanded by the NAACP.

Despite its omissions and inadequacies, the NLRA legalizes the right of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for their members — white and nonwhite. Under the NLRA, the largest Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, is finally able to win a negotiated contract with the Pullman Company to reduce hours and increase wages. African American and Latino workers in major industries like auto, steel, meat-packing, rubber, electrical, communications, and so on, are able to join CIO unions and win higher pay, better conditions, and shorter hours.

While major NAACP efforts are always run and controlled by the national office in New York, during the Depression-era many branches also engage in significant local actions. In Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, DC, for example, Black men and women stage, "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" boycott campaigns against white-owned stores and diners in African American neighborhoods that refuse to hire Black workers. Many of these protests result in new jobs, including work for teenagers whose parents are unemployed or underemployed.

In 1934, Howard University students stage a protest against the continued lynching of African American youth. At the 1935 NAACP convention in St. Louis, 22 year old Juanita Jackson, who has been actively organizing youth to express their urgency and militancy, gives a fiery address demanding revitalization of the organization's youth program. The Board of Directors appoint her to be the first NAACP Youth Secretary and in early 1936 they establish a revamped NAACP Youth and College Division. ('Youth" is defined as up to 25 years old.) A few months later, Jackson organizes a national NAACP youth meeting of 217 delegates in Baltimore, Maryland. They adopt a national program protesting and opposing lynching, segregation, employment discrimination, and denial of civil liberties and calling for equal educational and economic opportunities. [14]

By the end of 1935, almost 30% of all American Blacks have received some form of economic relief (cash, jobs, food, housing, education, etc) from New Deal programs. The 1936 elections reveal a sea-change in African American voting patterns — from Republican to Democratic. Supported by the NAACP, FDR actively campaigns for Black votes in northern states. For the first time ever, there are 30 African American delegates to the 1936 Democratic convention, Black reporters are credentialed, a Black minister provides an invocation, and African American politicians deliver addresses.

In November of 1936, another landslide victory returns Roosevelt and the Democrats to office. FDR garners 61% of the total vote and 76% of the Black vote. Thus is born the "Roosevelt Coalition" of labor, liberals, Blacks, Jews, ethnic European immigrants, and white southerners that ensure Democratic control of the White House and Congress for a generation to come. But the crucial "Solid South" bloc of southern senators — and the white voters who elect them — stand in adamant opposition to the racial-justice initiatives and reforms supported by the NAACP, liberals, and nonwhite voters. Yet Roosevelt cannot get essential legislation through the Senate without them, nor without them will he have enough Electoral College votes to be reelected in 1940.


DuBois Challenges the Leadership

As with everything else in America, the Great Depression internally stresses the NAACP. Where once it had been seen as the fierce and radical opposition to the accomodationism of Booker T. Washington, now socialists and nationalists challenge it from the left. To them, its focus on ineffective legislative lobbying and slow moving, incremental judicial cases is inadequate to the multiple crises facing African Americans and other nonwhites — particularly in the area of poverty and economic justice. In early 1933, NAACP leader Joel Spingarn writes to co-founder Mary Ovington:

"I have lost interest in the Association as it is now run, I do not approve of the spirit that motivates it, and I do not feel like allowing my name to be used to represent that spirit. ... I am not interested in a succession of cases. When I joined the Association we had what was a thrilling program, revolutionary for its time, and one that gave us a little hope of solving the whole problem. Now we have only cases, no program, and no hope."  — Joel Spingarn. [11]

Yet the bulk of the NAACP's members — and all of its leadership — remain drawn from the upper stratas of both the African American and white-liberal communities. Among them are business proprietors, landowners and landlords, investors, affluent intellectuals and academics, and socially-conservative ministers. Many of them show little enthusiasm for labor unrest, take a dim view of rent-strikes and rent control, and find class conflict in general to be personally repugnant. Moreover, many national and local NAACP leaders fear that being linked too closely to advocates of radical economic and social change will undermine both their personal social standing in their communities and the organization's strategy of appealing to influential Republican and northern Democratic power-brokers.

NAACP leaders W.E.B. DuBois, Spingarn, and others call for a conference to reinvigorate the organization:

"We want to get together some of the younger independent thinking Negroes of strong, honest character. ... The NAACP will exercise no control over the conference and will leave it perfectly free and untrammeled in discussion and conclusions." — W.E.B. DuBois. [11]

Held for three days in 1933 at Spingarn's country estate near Amenia NY, the average age of the 33 attendees is 32 (at ages 67, 65, and 58, Ovington, DuBois, and Spingarn raise the average considerably). One third of the delegates are women at a time when NAACP leadership is dominated by males. The conference calls on the NAACP to open up its top-down leadership and add economic justice, development, and independence, to its agenda of pursuing civil and political equality. They call for supporting CIO unions, and unity between African American and white workers. They support FDR's New Deal for bringing jobs, economic relief, and hope — but they criticize its racial inequality. They explicitly state that the New Deal's democratic reforms are preferable to the extreme proposals of both fascism and communism.

At the NAACP's annual national conference in 1934, DuBois presents a sweeping proposal to democratize the organization and expand its program beyond opposing segregation and racial discrimination to also include broader economic issues that profoundly affect the great majority of nonwhites. NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White and other top NAACP leaders fail to support the proposal and it is never implemented. The NAACP remains a centralized, top-down organization focused on race-discrimination court-cases and legislative lobbying.

That same year, Du Bois publishes an editorial in The Crisis opposing racial discrimination and persecution, but supporting Blacks working together for their own mutual benefit even if some might interpret that as some kind of self-segregation.

"The opposition to racial segregation is not, or should not, be any distaste or unwillingness of colored people work with each other, to cooperate with each other, to live with each other. The opposition to segregation is an opposition to discrimination. The experience in the United States has been that usually when there is racial segregation, there is also racial discrimination. But the two do not necessarily go together..."

For many of the NAACP's national leaders, DuBois has long been a radical thorn in their side. They falsely accuse him of condoning the oppression of southern segregation and opposing integration as an organizational goal. They force him to resign editorship of The Crisis. DuBois leaves the organization and becomes a full-time professor at Atlanta University. (A decade later, he rejoins NAACP during the Second World War).


NAACP Legal Department & Legal Defense Fund

With federal civil rights legislation blocked by southern filibusters and few state legislatures receptive to racial-justice initiatives, by the 1930s NAACP energies are primarily focused on judicial challenges to discrimination & segregation, and defending nonwhites against racially-motivated persecution by police and courts. Charles Hamilton Houston, former dean of Howard Law School, is the NAACP's Special Counsel. As the number of cases soar upward in the 1930s, he recruits Thurgood Marshall and other Howard Law School students to form an NAACP legal department.

See NAACP Legal Department & Legal Defense and Education Fund for continuation.


NAACP: World War II

By the late 1930s, the rise of fascism in Europe and Japanese imperialism in Asia pose international threats that President Roosevelt strives to counter. His efforts are bitterly opposed by pro-fascists and isolationists in Congress. Yet as war clouds gather on the horizon, some anti-New Deal Republicans who oppose deficit spending and increased taxes to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or employ the unemployed grudgingly agree to begin funding defense preparations.

By 1940, Europe is aflame. Nazi panzer divisions are occupying France, Norway, and the Low Countries. Japan has conquered half of China, is invading Vietnam, and threatening the Phillipines. In September, conscription is signed into law by President Roosevelt.

The U.S. military begins to rapidly expand. The CCC is phased out as unemployed young men are drafted into the Army. But just as it was in WWI, the armed services remain completely segregated. African American soldiers continue serve in segregated units with white officers. Nonwhite Navy sailors are still restricted to the dirtiest, most menial, most servile of jobs. The Marines still exclude African Americans entirely. (The Air Force has not yet been created.) For the military establishment, it is unthinkable that a white private might ever be placed under the command of a Black sergeant or that African American sailors might receive Navy training for skilled occupations that are reserved for whites-only in civilian life.

Defense-industry and military-related construction jobs soar. But the booming defense industry is also segregated. The few nonwhites who are employed at all are limited to the most onerous, most dangerous, and lowest-paid positions. (Though, of course, when it comes to taxes "white-only" does not exist; like everyone else, nonwhites are required pay higher taxes to fund the military buildup.)

The 1941 March on Washington.

African American leaders and organizations (and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt), lobby Congress and the President to end segregation in the armed forces and open defense jobs to nonwhites. In September of 1940, A. Philip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), NAACP leader Walter White, and Arnold Hill of the National Urban League, meet with Roosevelt to press their case. They get nowhere. FDR emphatically denies their plea by issuing a public statement that the military — in which more than a million nonwhites will eventually serve — is to remain segregated.

Randolph concludes that lobbying and pleading is ineffective. He tells a colleague, "I think we ought to get 10,000 Negroes and march down Pennsylvania Avenue asking for jobs in defense plants and integration of the armed forces. It would shake up Washington!"

He asks young Bayard Rustin to organize the march from the BSCP offices. Together they reach out to the NAACP, National Negro Congress, and National Urban League, three African American organizations that are simultaneously allies for racial justice and rivals for support among Blacks and white liberals.

A mass march in the nation's capitol, which can only be achieved by widespread grassroots organizing and mobilization, is a radical departure from the lawsuits, legislative lobbying and careful cultivation of white elites favored by NAACP national leaders. Moreover, Randolph intends the march to be an independent action organized and led by African Americans themselves. While support from predominantly white organizations like CIO unions, churches, and civil organizations is welcome, he expects the marchers themselves to be overwhelmingly Black — a significant departure from the thoroughly integrated approach of the NAACP.

The date is set for July 1, 1941. (Which, though no one at the time knows it, will turn out to be just 160 days before the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.)

The idea of a March on Washington for defense jobs and desegregation of the military catches fire in African American communities across the nation, particularly in urban areas where defense plants are hiring thousands of whites each week — but few nonwhites.

The Amsterdam News declares that 100,000 will march in the Capitol. Rank and file NAACP members support the march and flock to local March on Washington committees. With funds being raised, plans laid, churches addressed, and buses chartered, the national NAACP leaders agree to co-lead the march with Randolph. They direct NAACP branches to both mobilize marchers and help stage large support rallies — 15,000 in St. Louis, 20,000 in Chicago, 23,500 in New York, and thousands more in other cities.

When asked where the marchers will stay and be fed, Randolph answers that obviously they'll stay in hotels and eat in diners and restaurants just like other Americans who come to petition their government for redress of grievances. But Washington is a thoroughly segregated southern city. Its white residents, large numbers of whom work for the federal government, are aghast. Horrified. Terrified. They demand that Roosevelt prevent the march.

For their part, the generals and admirals are adamant that desegregating the military will, "threaten unit cohesion," on the eve of desperate battle and that white soldiers and sailors might mutiny if put under the command of nonwhites.

But on the other side, CIO unions, liberals, progressive clergy and intelligentsia, all decry the hypocrisy of calling on Americans to "defend democracy" from racist fascism while enforcing Jim Crow segregation in the military and denying equal opportunity in the defense industry. And war-planners worry about what further actions the burgeoning national network of March on Washington committees might take if nothing is done to address their grievances? And how might a mass protest march and possible domestic unrest affect America's leadership of what Roosevelt is beginning to call the "United Nations?'

On June 18, Roosevelt summons both Randolph and White to Washington for another meeting. He tells them that with war about to break out he cannot overrule his military commanders. He asks them to cancel the march in return for his personal promise to "improve" treatment of African Americans in civilian life. Randolph demands something stronger and more tangible, an Executive Order prohibiting racial discrimination in federally-funded defense industry employment (which Roosevelt can issue under his threat-of-war emergency powers without having to go through Congress).

On June 25, six days before the march, President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8802, which prohibits employment discrimination in the defense industry on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. It also establishes a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to monitor compliance.

Randolph and White agree to call off the march.

[Despite stalling and resistance by some federal agencies and defense corporations, by the war's end the number of African Americans working in defense-related and federal government jobs is more than triple what it had been in 1940. But since the anti-discrimination policy and FEPC were unilaterally established by FDR as "temporary wartime measures," when the war ended they both had to be made permanent by Congress. Segregationist Democrats and "small-government" Republicans blocked all anti-discrimination and FEPC legislation. It was not until the Freedom Movement of the 1960s forced Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that equal opportunity in federally-funded jobs became permanent national policy and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established to enforce it.]

Double-V Campaign.

In 1941, the Pittsburgh Courier is the largest Black-owned newspaper in the country. It begins running a weekly series calling for a "Double-V Campaign' — victory over both fascism in Europe and the Jim Crow system in America — and demanding that African Americans risking their lives in the war be given full citizenship rights at home.

The Double-V campaign is broadly supported by both the Black press and African American organizations like the NAACP. Black-owned shops and businesses display a black and white Double-V poster next to the blue and white V-for-Victory posters distributed by federal civil-defense groups.

In addition to fighting for equal employment in the defense industry, the NAACP and NAACP-member Eleanor Roosevelt lobby against segregation within the military and on military bases. They urge the President to open up the armed forces to Americans of all races and to end the restrictions that limit nonwhite GIs and bar them from combat units.

They have little success — but there are some exceptions. After enforcing a whites-only policy for 165 years, the U.S. Marine Corps finally accepts its first African American recruits in 1942. It sends them to a segregated boot camp at Montford Point NC where they are not allowed to enter the adjacent white camps unless accompanied by a white Marine. Black Marines serve in all-Black units with white officers.

The Army and Air Corps create a small number of Black combat units and some of them win great fame such as the fighter pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen ('Red Tails'), the 92nd ('Buffalo Soldiers') infantry division that sees combat in Italy, the 761st Tank Battalion ('Black Panthers') which fights in the Battle of the Bulge and then breaks through the Siegfried Line into Germany, and the front-line "Red Ball Express" truck units that keep the allied armies supplied after the Normandy invasion. But discrimination, segregation, and Jim Crow racism remain widespread throughout the armed forces.

The NAACP links civil defense and military recruiting to joining the NAACP and NAACP leader Walter White tours the war zones of Europe and the South Pacific to investigate complaints of racism and discrimination against Black GIs. Unsurprisingly, he documents a system of military "justice" that punishes African American GIs with harsher penalties for lesser crimes than whites, white racist attitudes and beliefs that lead to violence against Blacks, and standing orders that restrict African American combat soldiers to menial service positions even when they're greatly needed for the combat roles they've been trained to fill but are barred from assuming.

At the request of Supreme European commander General Eisenhower, Walter White drafts a memo to the War Department with recommendations for improving the treatment and opportunities of Black personnel. Among his 14 recommendations are creating a special court-martial review board for race-related cases, activating more African American combat units, and integrating recreation facilities.

The Pentagon ignores his recommendations. Despite the heroism of Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow GIs, the armed services remain deeply infected with racism, bigotry, and segregation.

Port Chicago Mutiny Case.

The military justice system mirrors the racist systems of civilian injustice that are so prevalent throughout the South and the nation as a whole. Nonwhites are frequently charged and convicted of offenses because white officers simply assume they are guilty regardless of lack of evidence. In other cases they are court-martialled and punished to "set an example for" (intimidate) other African Americans or nonwhites.

During the war, requests for legal assistance against military injustice pour into NAACP and LDF offices. But resources are spread thin and few can be acted on. One of the most important of those that are taken up is the Port Chicago "Mutiny" case.

By mid-1943, more than 100,000 African Americans are serving in the Navy. None of them are officers, and few rise higher than Seaman 1st Class (E3). Port Chicago California on San Francisco Bay is the primary Pacific Ocean shipping point for Navy ammunition. The base is completely segregated at all levels. Blacks and whites live in separate barracks. African Americans are not permitted to enter the mess hall for meals until all of the white sailors have been served and departed.

Before the modern era of shipping containers, stowing cargo piece by piece in ship holds is a skilled craft that requires training and experience — even more so when handling explosives. Working around the clock in three shifts at Port Chicago, all of the hard physical labor of loading bombs, torpedoes, and cannon shells is performed by untrained Black sailors under the overall command of white officers who themselves have little or no training in cargo storage, ammunition loading, or safety regulations. They drive the African American stevedores to greater and greater speed. Conditions and work practices are so obviously unsafe that the thoroughly integrated civilian Longshoremen's Union (ILWU) offers experienced professionals to train the Navy men in safe loading practices and equipment maintenance.

The Navy rejects their offer.

On July 17, 1944, huge explosions at the loading dock kill 320 military and civilian workers and injure 390 more. Two-thirds of the dead and wounded are Black. Two ships are sunk. The dock and adjacent railyard are destroyed. The shock wave is registered on sesimagraphs at U.C. Berkeley 20 miles away. White officers are granted 30-day Survivors Leave. None of the surviving African American enlisted men are given any leave at all, not even those who were hospitalized with injuries.

With Port Chicago out of commission, ammunition loading is shifted to the nearby Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The same ill-trained and incompetent white officers remain in command of the surviving Black stevedores and their totally untrained replacements. The officers order the men to enter the yard and commence loading explosives. They refuse. They engage in no violence, they simply refuse to work under the same conditions and commanders who caused the deaths of their almost 400 of their fellow sailors.

"I wasn't trying to shirk work. I don't think these other men were trying to shirk work. But to go back to work under the same conditions, with no improvements, no changes, the same group of officers that we had, was just — we thought there was a better alternative." — Joe Small, explosion survivor and striker. [15]

In civilian life, their act would be considered a strike against unsafe conditions — but to the Navy brass it's MUTINY! Some 258 Black sailors are arrested and jammed into a brig designed to hold 75 prisoners. Threatened with death by firing squad, most of the strikers agree to resume work. Because of their short work-stoppage, after the war ends they all receive Bad Conduct Discharges that deny them their veteran's benefits.

But 50 of the African American sailors refuse to work under the same white officers and conditions. Known as the "Port Chicago 50," they are tried for mutiny. Thurgood Marshall of the LDF is allowed to observe part of the trial but he is not allowed to play any role in the sailors" defense. He publicly condemns the proceedings as unfair and racially-prejudiced, and the mutiny charge as excessive in the extreme. He calls for a formal investigation into the explosions, the subsequent strike, and the selective prosecution of the 50 defendants.

"This is not fifty men on trial for mutiny. This is the Navy on trial for its whole vicious policy towards Negroes." — Thurgood Marshal, LDF. [15]

All the officers on the court martial board are white (of course). After just 80 minutes of deliberation (96 seconds per defendant) the board finds all 50 men guilty. They are sentenced to prison terms of 8-15 years and Dishonorable Discharges. (In civilian life, GIs with Dishonorable or Bad Conduct Discharges are denied veterans benefits and treated by potential employers as if they had a felony criminal conviction.)

Led by Marshal, the LDF launches a publicity campaign to build support for the Port Chicago 50. There are rallies, speeches, articles, and petitions. Marshal represents the 50 defendants at an appeal in Washington before the Navy's Judge Advocate General. In response to NAACP pressure, the Navy reconvenes the court martial in 1945 under the same admiral and with the same officers to retry the defendants. Again they are convicted and given the same sentences.

But the NAACP builds such a strong public case that in January of 1946, a few months after the war ends, the Navy agrees to release the Port Chicago 50 and grant them General Discharges which allow them to receive veterans benefits.


NAACP: Post-War Era

During the wartime economic boom, NAACP membership rose from a Depression-era nadir of 18,000 to over 500,000 in more than a thousand branches. And by the end of the war, NAACP voter-registration efforts have managed to increase the number of African American voters in the Upper-South states from 2% to 12% of those eligible. But Black voter registration in the Deep South remains in the low single digits.

White military veterans returning from World War II to civilian life are treated by America as heroes — they are honored, respected, paraded and feted. A GI Bill is enacted to provide them education, housing, and job training, lifting hundreds of thousands of them into home-ownership and middle-class jobs — but as intended by the southern Democrats who control the Senate, those benefits are largely denied to nonwhite soldiers and sailors.

To the white South, the return of Black fighting men who had experienced the semi-segregated North or the unsegregated (but still racially-prejudiced) Europe, poses an existential threat to their Jim Crow, southern way of life. To prevent African American GIs from winning — or even asking for — the rights and freedoms they fought to defend overseas, segregationists launch a preemptive campaign of legal suppression, economic intimidation, and violent terrorism.

Black soldiers returning to hometowns in the South are warned by friends not to wear the uniforms they are so proud of because white cops might detain them, haul them off the buses, beat them for insufficiently servile demeanor, or arrest them on trumped up charges. And if a search discovers the photo of a white woman in the wallet of a African American soldier, he risks being lynched.

Still, despite danger, oppression, and retaliation, African American veterans of the "The war to make the world safe for democracy" rise to the task:

Yet despite their determination and courage, after the war African American military veterans make scant headway against America's deeply-ingrained systemic racism.


An Appeal to the World.

In 1944, W.E.B. Du Bois returns to the NAACP as Director of Special Research focusing on the peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora. The goal is to ensure that their interests, and the interests of other nonwhites, are taken into account in postwar planning, decision-making, and the construction of the new world order — as did not occur after the First World War.

Working with a team of prominent lawyers and scholars, he oversees creation and publication of: An Appeal to the World: A Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress.

Their 95-page analysis and petition to the newly established United Nations Organization focuses on the historic denial of human rights and citizenship to people of African descent in the United States. Du Bois himself writes the Introduction, arguing that the American "color caste system" is a disaster for democracy.

"It is not Russia that threatens the United States so much as Mississippi. Not Stalin and Molotov, but [senators] Bilbo and Rankin; internal injustice done to one's brothers is far more dangerous than the aggression of strangers from abroad." — W.E.B. Du Bois [17]

He goes on to describe and analyze the collusion between northern economic interests and the land barons of the southern "Cotton Kingdom" to maintain cheap labor and enforce a racial caste system that keeps Blacks in economic and political subjugation — and in which "three-fourths of the Negro population of the nation is deprived of the right to vote by open and declared policy."

Du Bois also links America's system of color caste to the issues of imperialism and colonialism that the newly formed United Nations is just beginning to grapple with. He charges that under the sway of segregationists and white-supremacists:

[The United States has] cast its influence with imperial aggression throughout the world and withdrawn its sympathy from the colored peoples and from the small nations. It has become through private investment a part of the imperialistic bloc which is controlling the colonies of the world."

And he concludes his introduction by justifying the NAACP's appeal to the UN:

In this great attempt to find common ground and to maintain peace, it is therefore, fitting and proper that the thirteen million American citizens of Negro descent should appeal to the United Nations and ask that organization in the proper way to take cognizance of a situation which deprives this group of their rights as men and citizens, and by so doing makes the functioning of the United Nations more difficult, if not in many cases impossible."

Shortly after a UN debate on the treatment of racial minorities in Africa, Asia, and British-ruled Palestine, the NAACP's Appeal is formally presented to the UN Division on Human Rights in October of 1947. The Appeal of 1947 is a precursor to the anti-lynching "We Charge Genocide" petition to the United Nations by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) in 1951. In both cases, U.S. diplomats view any UN discussion of American race relations as a political threat to U.S. leadership of the "Free World." They successfully maneuver to prevent the UN from considering or debating the issues raised by the NAACP and CRC. The nation's white-owned mass media take little notice of either document.

But even without formal UN discussion, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America where nations and peoples are struggling against colonialism and the U.S. is competing against the Soviet Union and China for political influence, the two documents do have an impact on American's claim to "Free World" moral leadership.

And as the Freedom Movement gathers strength and power in the following years, Cold War geopolitics influences Washington's reaction to major events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, the Sit-ins and Freedom Rides of 1960-61, and the voting rights efforts of Freedom Summer in 1964, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign, and The March to Montgomery in 1965.


President Truman's Executive Orders.

For twelve years, from 1932-1944, the Roosevelt coalition delivers the White House to Democrats. But as the 1948 election campaign approches, Republicans are confident and assured. The 1946 Midterms — the first election since the war ended — handed them control of both the House and Senate. Every single national poll shows their candidate Thomas Dewey certain to defeat Harry Truman and enter the White House.

As Truman begins preparing for the 1948 campaign, the Roosevelt coalition is fraying and on the verge of collapse. Blacks, Jews and social liberals are appalled at the South's vicious and violent suppression of African American veterans. They demand that the Democratic Party take a strong civil rights stand in the 1948 platform. Progressives and peace-oriented liberals are frightened by the surging tide of "anti-communist" rhetoric, hysteria, and hate. They are dismayed by rising Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union, they fear the threat of nuclear annihilation — and the "drop drills" their children are being taught in elementary school to protect them from atomic bombs fails to reassure them.

At the other end of the political spectrum, segregationist Democrats see Black aspirations of freedom and equality as existential threats to their treasured, white-supremacist, southern way of life. They adamantly and furiously oppose any and all civil rights measures. For them, civil rights for nonwhites is the very definition of "communism." And they fervently endorse belligerent, flag-waving, anti-communist militarism.

Like Roosevelt before him, Truman is personally sympathetic towards civil rights issues and the afflictions of racism and discrimination that nonwhites are forced to bear and endure. As was the case with FDR, he has African American advisors and contacts with NAACP leaders. He forms a President's Committee on Civil Rights to "strengthen and safeguard the rights of the American people." Only two of the committee's 16 members are Black — both of them NAACP leaders — but even that token number antagonizes a significant portion of white voters and is controversial in the mass media.

In June of 1947, the NAACP holds it's annual convention in Washington DC. It assembles for its closing session at the Lincoln Memorial where President Truman addresses them — the first president ever to address an NAACP meeting. Eleanor Roosevelt and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court sit behind the president on the dais while his speech is broadcast nationwide over radio:

"Our immediate task is to remove the last remnants of the barriers which stand between millions of our citizens and their birthright. There is no justifiable reason for discrimination because of ancestry, or religion, or race, or color.

We must not tolerate such limitations on the freedom of any of our people and on their enjoyment of basic rights which every citizen in a truly democratic society must possess. Every man should have the right to a decent home, the right to an education, the right to adequate medical care, the right to a worthwhile job, the right to an equal share in making the public decisions through the ballot, and the right to a fair trial in a fair court. We must insure that these rights — on equal terms — are enjoyed by every citizen. To these principles I pledge my full and continued support." — President Truman. [18]

But Republicans control both congressional chambers. Southern Democrats still dominate all the key Senate committees and will use their filibuster to torpedo any legislation that might empower Blacks. Congress ignores Truman's call to address the abuses suffered by nonwhites. Since there's zero chance of the 80th Congress enacting a civil rights or anti-lynching bill, both the NAACP and Truman understand that presidential executive action is the only possibility for progress on the national level.

In October of 1947, Truman's Committee on Civil Rights issues its 180-page report. Titled To Secure These Rights, it's main recommendations are:

Roy Wilkins, editor of the The Crisis and later NAACP Executive Director from 1955-1977, enthusiastically characterizes the recommendations as essentially the Association's agenda.

The white South is horrified — and enraged.

Prior to U.S. entry into the Second World War, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 establishes a military draft (conscription) for healthy men over the age of 18. After the war, there is controversy over continuing this 'peace-time draft.' Liberals opposed to the Cold War, a permanent wartime economy, and an aggressive international military/political interventionist agenda, call for allowing the draft law to expire when it comes up for renewal in 1948. Conservatives and the far-right aggressively push a Cold War anti-Communist, interventionis agenda at home and abroad.

As part of his campaign to end racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S. military, A. Philip Randolph forms a Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training that opposes renewal of the draft in 1948 so long as the armed services remain segregated. Randolph declares that he will lead an anti-draft civil disobedience campaign urging Black men to refuse to be drafted into a Jim Crow army.

In July of 1948, Truman and the Democratic Convention adopt a strong civil rights plank for the party platform by a close 52%-48% vote. As expected, a number of delegates from the Deep South walk out and form what becomes known as the "Dixiecrat Party." They nominate Strom Thurmond of South Carolina to run as a segregationist candidate for the White House. Democrats opposed to Truman's Cold-War foreign policy and Red Scare domestic abuse of civil liberties form a Progressive Party. They nominate former Roosevelt Vice-President Henry Wallace to run on a peace and civil liberties platform. Their campaign slogan is "Wallace in "48 or there'll be no "52!"

By the end of July 1948, the Democratic Party has split into three separate factions, each running their own presidential candidate.

On July 26, President Truman issues two executive orders and creates a presidential committee to monitor compliance:

The NAACP solidly backs Truman for president and mobilizes its membership to win his reelection.

Three months later, on November 2, 1948, Truman pulls off one of the great come-from-behind victories in American political history. Every single national poll predicts a Republican victory — so much so that some major newspapers (almost all of which are aggressively pro-Republican) publish incorrect "Dewey Wins!" headlines before all the votes are counted.

The racist Dixiecrats garner 2.4% of the total vote and carry four Deep South states with 38 electoral votes. The liberal Progressives also get 2.4% of the vote but because of the way the Electoral College is structured they garner zero electoral votes. [30]

And for one last election, the Roosevelt coalition of Blacks who are able to vote, labor, small farmers, Jews, Catholics, liberals, intellectuals, and moderate whites in the Upper South holds together. Defying the rising tide of anti-communist demagoguery and white-supremacist hate, Truman wins just under 50% of the total vote and 303 electoral votes to Dewey's 45% and 189 electoral votes.


NAACP: The 1950s

The 1950s are both a decade of triumph for the NAACP and a decade of crisis and tribulation. Arguably, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision is the NAACP's most significant SCOTUS victory — an achievement that over time lays the legal foundation for profound changes in American race relations that improve the lives of nonwhites both South and North. But it sparks a white-supremacist backlash and counter-attack against the NAACP that both weakens and damages the organization in the South and simultaneously opens up the field to competing civil rights organizations — particularly CORE, SCLC, and SNCC.


Brown v. Board of Education

In its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, the Supreme Court uses a fig-leaf doctrine known as "Separate But Equal" to justify legalizing the Jim Crow system of segregation that had been imposed on African Americans after Reconstruction was killed by Washington politicians in 1877. After Plessy, Separate But Equal becomes the legal bedrock on which Jim Crow rests. [19]

In the 1930s, the NAACP embarks on a long-haul legal strategy to overturn both the Plessy ruling and the Separate But Equal doctrine. Focusing on segregated school systems as the clearest example, they start assembling data to prove that in most contexts separate is not — and can never be — equal. The dual crises of the Great Depression and then World War II delay the NAACP strategy. Yet it is both the New Deal and the aftermath of the war that prepare the political context for its eventual success.

But before NAACP lawyers can use school segregation to directly challenge Plessy in the courts, there have to be Black plaintiffs willing to defy segregation laws and customs by filing the cases that the lawyers will then argue. Doing so means risking vilification, beatings, jail, eviction, loss of employment or destruction of business — and lynching. As 1950s dawn, courageous Black men, women, and children begin filing school desegregation cases in state courts that challenge both Plessey and Separate But Equal. Some cases, such as the Student Strike at Moton High, arise directly out of community struggle. Others emerge from organizing and NAACP encouragement. In December of 1952, the Supreme Court consolidates five of the school desegregation cases under the name Brown v. Board of Education. [26]

On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren reads the decision of a unanimous Court:

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does... We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

In the South (and elsewhere), white reaction to the Brown decision is immediate and furious. Virginia is ruled by Senator Harry Byrd and his political machine. He issues a Southern Manifesto calling for Massive Resistance to school integration (and, by implication, rigid maintenance of all other forms of racial segregation). [27]

Byrd's Massive Resistance strategy is widely adopted by state governments and school boards throughout the South. The 1954 Virginia Democratic Party gubernatorial campaign platform, for example, resolves that, "The state [will] oppose [integration] with every facility at our command, and with every ounce of our energy." Alabama Attorney General (and later Governor) John Patterson provides a forthright explanation of the Massive Resistance strategy:

We concluded then that we could never win the legal battle, that you could not square a dual [school] system of that sort under our federal Constitution. ... and that the best thing for us to do would be to never admit that, of course, but to fight a delaying action in the courts. ... delay every way we could do it. ... so that [Blacks] have to take us on, on a broad front, in a multitude of cases. — John Patterson. [20]

While Brown strikes down the separate but equal doctrine in public education and mandates school integration in 1954, it does not require immediate desegregation — or set any timeline to accomplish it. In a massive concession to southern segregationists the following year, its 1955 All Deliberate Speed decision (sometimes referred to as "Brown II,") signals the court's reluctance to require that the South actually desegregate their schools in a timely manner. As a result, southern states and school districts are allowed to resist, evade, avoid, and delay, school integration for years with stalling tactics and subterfuges.

African American hopes that had soared on news of Brown suffocate and die as the South is allowed to delay school integration indefinitely (and by implication maintain other forms of segregation in perpetuity).

Nor does Brown explicitly overturn segregation in other areas such as public accommodations and spaces, housing, employment, government programs and policies, college admissions, or anything else.

After All Deliberate Speed signals the Supreme Court's acquiescence to Massive Resistance, the huge financial, organizational, and legal burden of fighting hundreds of individual school and other desegregation cases through both state and federal courts falls on the NAACP and LDF. To the extent that they can, the NAACP provides encouragement, organizational, political, and financial support for parents and communities, while the LDF provides the attorneys to argue the cases. But they have to do so district by district, county by county, and state by state while they, themselves, are under a savage, massive, attack intended to cripple and destroy them.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

Throughout the South, Blacks and other nonwhites must endure the degradation of the southern way of life and its Jim Crow segregation. To one degree or another, some of the indignity can be evaded by avoiding the segregated lunch counters, parks, libraries, swimming pools, and other facilities enjoyed by whites that are forbidden to them. But in southern cities most nonwhites — particularly African American women — have no choice but to ride segregated public busses to and from work each day. So back-of-the-bus transportation is a daily flashpoint of humiliation.

As the Black community sees it, the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown declares that school segregation is not only morally wrong, but unconstitutional. So therefore all forms of segregation must be equally illegal. But segregation cases have to be separately filed and fought through a deeply hostile state court system and then work their way up the federal appeals ladder — a long, dreary, expensive, process.

For their part, southern whites engraged by Brown comfort themselves with the illusion that the case is an atrocity of "Yankee meddling," and that "their Colored" are "happy and content." But if local African Americans shatter that delusion by challenging bus segregation they risk the full weight of white fury.

In Montgomery Alabama, African Americans are a bit over 40% of the population, but comprise more than 75% of all bus riders. In Montgomery, the specifics of the bus segregation system are particularly and unusually degrading — even for the Deep South. After Brown, local NAACP and other community leaders ponder both a court challenge and maybe something even bolder — a bus boycott like the one that occurred two years earlier in Baton Rouge Louisiana.

But both a court case and a boycott require someone to take a stand, someone to be arrested for violating the segregation ordinances — someone willing and able to risk economic, political, and social retaliation from whites — and maybe deadly violence.

In March of 1955, Claudette Colvin, a 15 year old high school student, refuses a bus driver's order to give up her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus. She's participated in meetings led by NAACP Youth Council leader Mrs. Rosa Parks, and she knows that by the strict letter of the bus law she's entitled to keep her seat. Nevertheless, she's dragged off the bus and arrested.

Montgomery's Black leadership consider basing a court challenge and maybe a boycott on her case. But they conclude that as an umarried, pregnant, juvenile with no legal rights, she's too vulnerable to white retaliation because state officials could (and probably would) lock her up for years on a phony morals charge as a wayward girl.

In addition to being leader of the youth council, Rosa Parks is also Secretary of the Montgomery NAACP — and a registered voter. As she boards a homeward-bound bus on the evening of December 1st, 1955, she's weary from a long shift as a department store seamstress, yet she knows she has to begin preparing for an NAACP youth meeting she's to lead over the weekend.

The bus driver orders her to give up her seat to a white man.

She quietly refuses.

She is arrested.

From city jail, she calls her mother who immediately contacts Montgomery NAACP leader E.D. Nixon. Nixon contacts Clifford Durr, a white attorney. He and his wife Virginia are among the few Alabama whites who dare cross the color line by working for racial justice and forming friendships with African Americans. For those crimes against the southern way of life they are ostracized from white society and threatened with violence.

Nixon and the two Durrs bail Mrs. Parks out of jail. Nixon asks her if she's willing to be the test case they've been waiting for. Though she knows the risks, she's ready. Nixon, the NAACP branch, the Womens Political Council (WPC), and Black religious leaders like Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy mobilize Montgomery's African American community to boycott the segregated bus system.

NAACP leader E.D. Nixon plays a crucial role in shaping both the legal case and the boycott strategy. Yet national NAACP leaders in New York are ambivalent. They favor litigation and lobbying by dignified and well-educated professionals — mass action by the great unwashed makes them uneasy. Nevertheless, the LDF agrees to first fund Rosa Park's appeal, then Browder v. Gayle the lawsuit to overturn Montgomery's bus segregation ordinance on constitutional grounds, and later to defend those arrested for leading or participating in the boycott including Rev. Martin Luther King (who at that time they'd never heard of). [28]

Though originally called for just a single day, the boycott that commences on December 5th lasts 381 days. Enduring cold winter rains and sweltering summer heat the Black men, women, and children of Montgomery walk rather than ride the busses. They endure arrests, violence, bombings, being fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes. Led by Nixon and Parks of the NAACP, Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy, Mary Fair Burks and Jo Ann Robinson of the WPC, they hold fast against every attack, abuse, and indignity thrown at them.

On June 1st, 1956, as part of a south-wide effort to destroy the NAACP, Alabama Attorney General (and later Governor) John Patterson obtains an unconstitutional court order outlawing the NAACP throughout the state of Alabama on grounds that they are "...organizing, supporting, and financing, an illegal boycott by Negro residents of Montgomery." A fine of $100,000 (equal to over $1,000,000 in 2023) is levied against the organization. Alabama NAACP offices are shut and their records are seized.

Though the NAACP in Alabama is driven underground, the boycott continues. Against every attack and abuse, the African American community of Montgomery holds fast. Finally, on Dec 20, 1956, after the NAACP wins a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Browder, Montgomery's white power-structure is forced to desegregate the bus system.

Whites in Montgomery continue to harass and persecute Mrs. Parks for her role in ending segregation on the bus system. She is forced to leave Alabama and resettle in Detroit.

Montgomery inspires a similar bus boycott in Tallahassee, and increased opposition to transportation segregation in communities across the South.

It also directly leads to the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. National NAACP leaders in New York do not want SCLC to become a mass-membership organization that might compete with them for dues-paying members. As a condition of receiving legal support from the LDF, the SCLC founders agree to structure their new group as an organization of affiliated churches and community groups that does not allow individuals to join.

Attack on the NAACP

In the early 1950s, "Red Scare" anti-communist hysteria against so-called "subversives" poisons and paralyzes American politics. The mass media echo and reinforce deeply partisan, right-wing demagoguery by Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) and others who proclaim and decry a "Red Menace" of traitors, spies, race-agitators, pinkos, peaceniks, fellow-travelers, and "pointy-head intellectuals," all of whom they allege are plotting to destroy America by somehow overthrowing our democratic government and replacing it with communist tyranny. The primary targets of these demagogues are civil rights organizations, labor unions, liberals, New Deal supporters, opponents of nuclear weapons, and foreign policy critics (though it's Hollywood celebrities who are the most publicized).

Red Scare political denunciations and persecutions profoundly warp America's political life. They create a mass culture where any questioning of authority, any form of dissent, any kind of public protest, is seen by many as suspected treason — or at the very least as "Un-American." In some walks of life, mere association with someone else who is accused of being a "red" or a "pinko" or a "fellow traveler" is enough to get you fired or blacklisted, or your business, book or film, boycotted.

Behind the hype and headlines are well-financed political agendas to restore the old racial, economic, and political status-quo that had dominated America from the end of Reconstruction until the social upheavals of the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War II. In the post-war era, conservative economic interests and white-supremacist politicians are determined to eliminate New Deal social programs and federal business regulation, roll back civil and political rights for nonwhites, cripple labor unions, and return America to the laissez faire economic policies of the Gilded Age.

They are also determined to ensure that U.S. foreign and military policy remains rigidly "anti-communist' — which for them means both a militant Cold War stance against the Soviet Union and "Red China," and political and military support for colonial regimes fighting against liberation movements in places like French Indo-China, the British Empire in Africa, and Latin America's dollar-dominated "Banana Republics."

[Language note: For 30 years after 1949, Republicans and most elected Democrats referred to China as "Red China" to distinguish it from the island of Formosa (now Taiwan) which they considered to be the "real" China whose Kuomintang government was just temporarily in exile from the mainland — but soon to return. As they saw it, Red China had somehow been "lost" to communism by the Truman administration, but they were confidant that with enough American military might it could be retaken and the old regime restored. That political fantasy was a significant contributing factor to both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.]

In the American South and much of the Mid and Southwest, white political leaders view advocacy for racial desegregation and nonwhite voting rights to be the very definition of "communist treason." White religious leaders, business owners, publishers, and politicians, proclaim that civil rights for nonwhite Americans is a vile plot to subvert the American way of life.

Supreme Court decisions striking down racially-restrictive residential covenants, overturning all-white primaries, forcing colleges to admit nonwhites, and prohibiting segregation in interstate travel are seen as examples of "subversion" and federal subjugation of states rights. So too are Truman's executive orders desegregating the military and federal civil service.

To the white-supremacist Dixiecrats who rule the South, the malevolent instigator of these treasonous ideas and outrageous acts is the NAACP, an organization they accuse of being "communist dominated," or a "communist front," or at the very least "under communist influence." Economic retaliation, intimidation, and violence against NAACP leaders and members spirals upward. One such instance is the savage Florida murder of NAACP leaders Harry & Harriette Moore on Christmas Eve, 1951.

For segregationists, the Supreme Court's Brown decision is an order of magnitude more horrendus than any previous decision. The court's "separate is inherently unequal" rationale threatens their entire system of racial hierarchy because unlike previous cases it directly threatens state and local laws and customs that have no direct association with the federal government as did interstate travel, voting in federal elections, or desegregation of the military and federal civil service.

Determined to save white-supremacy and their southern way of life, political and business leaders call for Massive Resistance to school integration and all other attempts to end segregation. They create a network of local White Citizens Councils (WCC) to wield economic retaliation against anyone — Black or white — who dares defy the racial order.

After the Montgomery Bus Boycott they launch all-out political and legal warfare to destroy the NAACP with a variety of tactics including:

Widespread terrorist violence is also a component of the South's war against the NAACP as an organization and all other manifestation of Black aspirations for freedom and equality. For example, in just the state of Mississippi in just the year 1955:

To a significant degree, the anti-NAACP campaign in the South is successful. Members and leaders fall away, programs are curtailed, and time and resources have to be devoted to countering lies that the NAACP and civil rights for Blacks are "communist treason." While in the long run the campaign to destroy the NAACP ultimately fails, during the decade from the mid-50s to the mid-60s — the most active years of the Freedom Movement — the white power structure succeeds in weakening the NAACP in some southern states and driving it underground in others.

The most obvious and immediate effect of the anti-NAACP campaign is a sharp drop in the NAACP's southern membership, from almost 130,000 members in 1955 to less than 80,000 in 1957. In national terms, southerners fall from 45% of the total NAACP membership to 28%. Some 246 NAACP branches and youth councils disappear in the South between 1955 and 1958. In Louisiana, for example, membership falls from 13,000 in 65 branches, to 1700 members in 7 branches. All of the surviving branches are in the New Orleans area while in the rest of the state the NAACP is driven underground. [13] [29]

Southern NAACP members who refuse to abandon the organization are often forced to adopt clandestine security measures such as having their membership cards and issues of Crisis sent to a lawyer or other safe address so that white mailmen can't report their membership to the local WCC or KKK. Some surviving branches adopt a lower profile — or assume a completely clandestine underground existence. Resources that could have been used for struggles against segregation and for voting rights have to be diverted to defending the organization and fighting to survive.

But the law of unintended consequences cannot be evaded, not even by white power-structures. In 1957, after enactment of anti-NAACP laws, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is founded. In 1960, the student-led sit-in movement erupts across the South, resulting in formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In the early "60's the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leverages the sit-ins and Freedom Rides to establish or strengthen local bases in Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas, and Florida.

With the NAACP driven underground throughout the state, white Alabama is confident it has met — and mastered — a dire threat to the southern way of life. But former NAACP leaders and members set up new organizations, and to old ones they bring an influx of new activists and energy. Proclaiming that "They can outlaw an organization, but they cannot outlaw the movement of a people determined to be free," Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth forms the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) in Birmingham. In Mobile, Rev. Joseph Lowery organizes the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, and in Selma, the Boyntons and others establish the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) to carry on the battle for the ballot.

Most of these new or reinvigorated organizations are rooted in the African American church (and in Louisiana in Black labor unions). Often they are more locally-focused than the former nationally-directed NAACP branch. And many have a deeper base in the Black community than did the dues-based NAACP which had focused on the community's narrow teacher, landowner, business, and professional strata. And as the "50s evolve into the "60s, some of the new groups prove far more willing to engage in disruptive mass action and militant protests than had the judicially-oriented NAACP.

On the national level, the NAACP struggles to maintain its relationships with the northern liberal wing of the Democratic Party and presidents Truman and Kennedy — all of whom are themselves vulnerable to, and terrified of, "Red Scare" slanders that they are "soft on communism."

NAACP leaders shun association with avowed Socialists like W.E.B. DuBois and Bayard Rustin (whose arrest for homosexuality they also find embarrassing). They refuse to work with groups such as the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) because some NLG attorneys provide legal-defense for Communists in court, and the NLG does not bar Communists from their membership, nor do they exclude lawyers who are on any of the "known subversives" lists drawn up by various Attorneys General. During the Freedom Summer of 1964, NAACP leaders in New York threaten to withhold legal aid and financial support for the entire project if it accepts any assistance from the NLG. SNCC refuses to be browbeaten and welcomes the aid of NLG lawyers such as Arthur Kinoy, William Kunstler, Len Holt, Ben Smith, and Victor Rabinowitz. The NAACP does not follow through on its threat and it provides significant legal support to Freedom Summer.

As an organization, the NAACP loudly declares it's patriotism. After Democrats retake the White House in 1960, the NAACP supports Kennedy's Cold War foreign policies and Johnson's Vietnam War. In the mid-1960s, local and state NAACP branches and youth councils are prohibited from participating in or speaking at anti-war events and national NAACP leaders condemn anti-war statements by SNCC and CORE. After Dr. King's 1967 anti-war declaration Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, NAACP leaders condemn King and accuse him of "moaning about" the war to the detriment of the fight for civil rights at home.

But with casualties spiraling upward and more and more young Black men being drafted to fight in a distant foreign war, by the mid-60s anti-war sentiments in African American communities are rising. Once Nixon takes office in 1969, increasing numbers of NAACP members and local leaders openly question the Vietnam War. Nationally, the NAACP cautiously retreats from its pro-war stance and forms alliances with the "moderate" wing of the anti-war movement to cautiously urge "... measures to withdraw American troops from Vietnam and concentrate our wealth and skills on peaceful measures to prosecute our own domestic war on poverty."

For more than a decade, the NAACP litigates against the un-constitutional, anti-NAACP laws in state and federal courts. Eventually, in NAACP v. Alabama the U.S. Supreme Court rules in its favor, declaring that forced disclosure of an organization's membership has the effect of suppressing peoples" right to free association and is a violation of the 14th Amendment. In Louisiana v. NAACP they rule that the political associations of officers cannot be used as the basis for banning an organization. And in NAACP v. Button they rule that organizing and funding class action lawsuits are not forms of legal malpractice.

By the mid-60s, NAACP legal victories and the bold, outright defiance of McCarthyism by SNCC, CORE, and Dr. King, have played major roles in discrediting and weakening Red Scare politics, censorship, and repression. With their "Commies are coming for you!" hype losing it's effectiveness, right-wing and white-supremacist politicians and media shift their divide-and-conquer scare tactics to new, explicitly racist, bogeymen such as "Black militants," "Black Muslims," and "Black Power."

Rather than challenging such smear tactics, National NAACP leaders affirm them by publicly disparaging and shunning the Nation of Islam ('Black Muslims'). They demand that the Deacons of Defense & Justice be excluded from participation in the 1966 Meredith Mississippi March. When their demand is rejected they withdraw their support. Shortly thereafter, they publicly disassociate themselves from the call for "Black Power!" and condemn its advocates.


NAACP: The 1960s

As the "50s evolve into the "60s, the Emmett Till Generation of African American students are enrolling in historically Black colleges. The majority of them are the first in their family to ever go on to higher education. Seeking broader horizons and lives of opportunity, most of them see education and their diploma as an achievement-path that can lift them above sharecropper and domestic-service lives.

Some, however, are restless and dissatisfied. They are no longer willing to continue existing within a humiliating Jim Crow system regardless of their position in it. They are inspired by the rising anti-colonial, anti-racist, struggles in Africa and Asia. They want to change the system rather than rising above others within it. For those determined to challenge the Jim Crow system, the torturous legal & lobbying strategy of the NAACP is taking too long and achieving too little. They begin to consider whether or not the successful applications of nonviolent direct-action in the Baton Rouge, Montgomery and Tallahassee bus boycotts might offer a way for them to take effective action themselves rather than relying on a handful of NAACP lawyers in distant courtrooms to win rulings that always seem to be stymied.

Filled with hope and vision, their goal is clear — Jim Crow segregation has to go, and voting rights for nonwhite Americans have to be won. If their elders hadn't been able to do it, can they? Secretly, under cover of church and YMCA youth gatherings they begin to meet and debate and strategize. How far can Gandhi's nonviolent tactics be applied to the segregated South? Can the nonviolent strategies of the bus boycotts be adapted to opposing segregation in public spaces and commercial establishments? The questions are unanswerable. The risks are enormous. Is it too dangerous? Arrest is certain. How will being arrested affect education and future careers? Can they do it? Will they do it?

On February 1st, 1960, four African American students sit down at a Greensboro NC lunch counter and ask for a cup of coffee.

Like a spark igniting a prairie fire, sit-ins explode across the South. By year's end, more than 70,000 men and women — mostly Black, some white — have participated in sit-ins and picket lines. More than 3,000 of them have been arrested. Many of them are young NAACP members — many are not.

Despite years of repression, the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (LDF) continue to function on the national level. And they still endure in the South — either overtly or clandestinely. So it is to the NAACP and LDF that most of the students arrested in the 1960 sit-ins turn to for bail, legal defense, and appeals through first state and then federal judicial systems. Throughout the 1960s — through sit-ins, freedom rides, freedom marches, summer projects, school desegregation, and voter registration campaigns, the NAACP is the legal sword and shield of the Freedom Movement.

Yet while they provide legal aid and representation for jailed protesters, national NAACP leaders in the 1960s continue to discourage — and in many cases actively oppose — the direct action tactics and strategies favored by both impatient youth and determined activists in local African American communities. So much so that there is often palpable tension between NAACP leaders and those of SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and local organizations.

Many NAACP leaders on the state and local levels echo the stance of national NAACP officers in New York by also opposing protests and other forms of direct action. But some, such as Amzie Moore and Medgar Evers in Mississippi support the young activists. As do many NAACP youth councils in places like New Orleans, Orangeburg, and elsewhere. Some youth councils organize sit-ins, picket lines, marches, and community organizing campaigns — sometimes in defiance of the NAACP leaders above them in the hierarchy.

Regardless of strategic and tactical differences, civil rights organizers and organizations understand that while dramatic, direct action protests and deep in-person community organizing educate the public, inspire hope, and build solidarity, to achieve and secure into the future significant nationwide change requires enacting effective, legally-enforceable, federal legislation.

At the forefront for lobbying Congress and the White House, stands the NAACP. Since the federal anti-lynch law campaign in the early 1900s, the NAACP has been the leading African American presence in the nation's capitol. Heading the NAACP's Washington Bureau is Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. who is so persistent and effective that he is sometimes referred to as America's "101st Senator." Both Mitchell, and the NAACP as an organization, fight for and work to strengthen:


The NAACP Today

Today, with more than half-million members, the NAACP continues to campaign for equality, justice, freedom, and opportunity. It remains a centrally-led, branch-based, organization. During the Civil Rights era, and for most of its existence, its national headquarters were in New York City until moving to Baltimore MD in 1986. (As of 2023 they are considering a move to Washington DC.) During the 1950s and "60s, the top NAACP position was Executive Secretary or Executive Director. Today the organization is led by President and CEO Derrick Johnson.

NAACP branches are usually associated with a geographic area like a city or county. Each branch has a set of elected officers. NAACP college chapters are associated with specific education institutions, while NAACP youth councils composed of members in their teens and twenties are associated with a geographic branch. Individual NAACP members belong to a particular branch, chapter, or council. Branches, chapters, and councils are part of NAACP state conferences which may have their own set of officers and staff.


Additional Information Resources

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc
NAACP Documents (Mostly from the 1950s-1960s Era.)

CRMA History Articles about NAACP, NAACP activists, and NAACP campaigns:

NAACP Builds the Case re segregated school systems. (1951-1954)
Murder of Harry & Harriette Moore (Dec, 1951)
Rev. George Wesley Lee Murdered (May)
Brown II "All Deliberate Speed" Decision (May)
Southern States Try to Destroy NAACP (1956-1964)
Montgomery Bus Boycott (Dec 1955-Dec 1956)
Autherine Lucy at the Univ. Alabama (Feb)
Robert Williams & Armed Self-Defense in Monroe NC
The Little Rock Nine (September)
Oklahoma City Sit-Ins & Boycotts (1958-1964)
Prince Edward County, VA, Closes It's Public Schools
Mass Arrest of Student Protesters, Orangeburg, SC. (Feb-March)
Savannah Sit-ins & Boycott (1960-62)
Jacksonville Sit-ins & "Ax-Handle Saturday" (Aug)
Tougaloo Nine and Jackson State Protest (Mar)
Frame-up, Escape, & Exile of Robert F. Williams (1961-1969)
Jackson MS, Boycotts (Winter-Spring)
Jackson Sit-in & Protests (May-June)
Medgar Evers Assassination (June)
Medgar's Funeral & End of Jackson Movement (June)
Farmville VA and the Program of Action (July-Sept)
The Murder of Vernon Dahmer (Jan)
Assassination of Wharlest Jackson (Feb)

Web Links & Books

Web: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Books: National Association Advancement Colored People (NAACP)


References Sources:

  1. How Long? Not Long — Our God is Marching On! Address to voting rights marchers, Montgomery AL. Martin Luther King. March 1965.
  2. Niagara Movement, DuBois Central, UMassAmherst.
  3. Founding platform: National Negro Committee NAACP, May 1909.
  4. NAACP Articles of Incorporation, 1911.
  5. W.E.B. Du Bois, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard Univ.
  6. NAACP Our History, NAACP.
  7. D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, the Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.
  8. Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918, NAACP. 1919.
  9. Anti-Lynching Legislation Renewed, U.S. House of Representatives.
  10. Eleanor Roosevelt's Battle to End Lynching, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum of the National Archives.
  11. Second Amenia Conference: Attempts to Change the Organization in the 1930s., Walter White Project
  12. African Americans in the Great Depression and New Deal, Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Oxford University Press.
  13. Mapping NAACP chapters 1912-1977, Mapping American Social Movements ~ University of Washington.
  14. History of the NAACP Youth and College Division, Kansas City, Missouri NAACP Youth Council.
  15. Port Chicago Disaster and Mutiny, Zinn Education Project.
  16. Amzie Moore, SNCC Digital Gateway.
  17. October 23, 1946: An Appeal to the World, Zinn Education Project
  18. Address to the NAACP, President Truman, June 29, 1947
  19. Plessy v. Ferguson, Oyez
  20. My Soul is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South, Howell Raines.
  21. Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, NAACP History
  22. Hearings, before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 86th Congress, Part 3, page 1535. 1959.
  23. To Secure These Rights, President's Committee on Civil Rights. 1947
  24. Executive Order 9980, President Truman, 1948
  25. Executive Order 9981, President Truman, 1948
  26. Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment, United States Courts.
  27. Southern Manifesto
  28. Browder v. Gayle:  King Research Institute (Stanford Univ.)  Justia
  29. Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972, Adam Fairclough.
  30. In 1948, Thurmond the Dixiecrat candidate took Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. Truman carried the rest of the South.

NAACP General Background Info:

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