The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on February 12, 1909, the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. A multi-racial group of activists answered ”The Call” for a national conference in response to a vicious episode of white racist violence against Black people in Mr. Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. The racist attack came 10 years after the prototype of such attacks, the ugly racist coup d’etat in Wilmington, N.C. in 1898. The Wilmington terrorism had been condoned and covered over by racist histories, and no one was brought to justice for it. This set the stage, throughout the next decade for similar attacks across the South. When these pogroms reached Lincoln’s hometown, it sparked enough outrage among some white progressives to put out a call to action which said, in part:
Many distinguished leaders responded to this Call, including Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villiard, and William English Walling. With many years of hard work, they and hundreds of thousands of other members have built the NAACP into the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States.
The NAACP’s mission has remained constant for its first century: to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. It advances its mission through the press, through non-violent mass petitioning for redress of grievances; through the ballot, through lobbying and through the courts. In the face of 100 years of covert and overt racial hostility and violence, including murders and bombings, NAACP leaders and members have steadfastly and courageously used legal and moral persuasion.
The NAACP has effectively used political pressure, marches, demonstrations, lobbying and litigation as both the voice, and the shield, for Americans of color for 100 years, accomplishing fundamental changes in America. Perhaps the NAACP’s best-known victory, coming after decades of struggle, is the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Teams of NAACP lawyers risked their lives in the South preparing the way for the NAACP general counsel, Thurgood Marshall, and his colleagues, to finally overturn the legal foundation for Jim Crow. Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court decision that was the legal basis for Jim Crow segregation and blatant oppression of people of color, set the stage for the Wilmington terrorist attack two years later.
A year after Jim Crow was ruled unconstitutional by Brown, in 1955, the secretary of the Montgomery Branch of the NAACP, a courageous young woman named Rosa Parks, was arrested and fined when she refused to give up her seat on a Jim Crow bus on her way home from work. Her act of courage was the catalyst for a well-organized bus boycott, the spreading of the idea of non-violent direct action against Jim Crow and more sophisticated forms of oppression, and soon the American South was the witness to the largest grassroots civil rights movement in the history of the country.
The NAACP provided critical leadership, legal, monetary, and grassroots support for this historic multi-racial Movement. The Movement’s legislative victories are well-known: The Civil Rights Act of 1957; The Civil Rights Act of 1964; The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964; The Voting Rights Act of 1965; The Fair Housing Act of 1968; The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. Each represented an important legislative protection for the NAACP’s court victories.
According to Rev. Dr. William Barber, II,
Executive Director, Amina Turner added, “In this time of reflection, we need to use the NAACP’s 100th Anniversary and its history as the catalyst to be more than just memory, but instead a call to action!”
In North Carolina, in late 2005, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II became President of the North Carolina State Conference of Branches. Rev. Barber stood of others like strong State President, Kelly Alexander, Sr. In 1940, Alexander reactivated the dormant Charlotte NAACP Branch and in 1948 was elected President of the North Carolina State Conference, a post he held until October 1984. During his presidency, the Alexander home was bombed and his life threatened as he carried out his duties to the NAACP mission. Under his leadership, the N.C. NAACP Conference became the largest state conference in the nation, with over 120 branches and 30,000 members. In 1950 Alexander was elected to the National NAACP Board of Directors and he became a Life Member in 1954. In 1976 he was elected Vice Chair of the National Board; in June 1983, he was named Acting Chair, and in January 1984, he was elected Chair of the National Board, the position Julian Bond now holds.
Kelly Alexander, Sr. was followed as the N.C. NAACP President by his son, Kelly Alexander, Jr.; who was then followed by Mr. Melvin “Skip” Alston, from Greensboro, and then Rev. Barber. The State Conference Presidents had the fine support of several hard-working Executive Directors, including Charles A. McLean, Carolyn Q. Coleman, Mary Peeler, Rev. George I. Allison, James Wiggins, and now Amina Josey Turner. Of course the heart and soul of the organization are the hundreds of grassroots members who daily challenge race discrimination in their communities, and maintained the state’s NAACP Conference of Branches as one of the strongest in the South.
In his three years as State Conference President, Rev. Barber and Executive Director Ms. Turner, supported by the hard work and volunteering of the State Executive Committee and local Branch leaders, have helped reenergize and strengthen the Conference into the largest State Conference in the South that has been repeatedly recognized by the National NAACP for its activism. Many observers believe the NAACP’s Million Voter March, which helped bring 1,200,000 voters of color to early voting last October through Election day, was a critical factor in practically every competitive race on the ballot, from the President on down. Just as important has been the NC NAACP’s joining hands with predominantly White and Latino organizations to build exciting new political alliances around a People’s Agenda that reverses the State’s historic priorities toward to focus on the needs of ordinary people of all colors. This political alliance is called the Historic Thousands on Jones Street: The Peoples General Assembly Coalition, named after the annual People’s Assembly in front of the State Legislature on the Saturday nearest the NAACP’s birthday.
On Saturday, February 14th, 2009, the NC NAACP marked its 100th anniversary by bringing historic thousands of North Carolinians of all colors and races to its third annual People’s Assembly on Jones Street. They will speak with one voice, advocating for the 14-Point People’s Agenda of the HKonJ alliance to change the way North Carolina treats the poor of our state, the priorities of our state, and the political processes of our state.
On February 12, 2009, resolutions were introduced in the North Carolina legislature to honor the memory of those who founded the NAACP and the great service they have rendered to our nation and state, and congratulating the NAACP for its significant contributions to social change.
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