What Does the Future Hold for the NAACP?
On March 9, 1892 in Memphis, Tenn. three successful African American businessmen were brutally lynched and accused of raping White women, when their actual “crime” was the competition they represented to their White counterparts.
Outraged by the brutal lynching of her friends, columnist and co-owner of the newspaper Memphis Free Speech, Ida B. Wells went on an anti-lynching crusade by publishing stories of the barbaric murders in her publication, as well as those throughout the north. As a result of her effort, mobs destroyed her newspaper offices and she was forced to flee the city.
Nevertheless, her tireless dedication from 1893 to 1897 led to anti-lynching laws in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas. In addition, because of the spark that Wells lit in many African Americans, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1909, and its first executive secretary James Weldon Johnson picked up the torch from where Wells’ efforts left off in supporting laws of equality for all of America’s citizens.
The organization celebrated its 100th anniversary at the recent NAACP convention, the same year that America inaugurated its first African American president, Barack Obama. Recently, the organization has faced criticism, even from the African American community, about the need for such an organization. However, at the NAACP convention, guest speakers emphasized that the journey is far from over, and much more work is still necessary.
On July 16, President Obama addressed the NAACP convention, stating that is was because of the group’s faithful dedication that he was able to be elected to the presidency, but urged them to continue their fight until all groups, including African Americans, have achieved true equality.
“The first thing we need to do is make real the words of your charter and eradicate prejudice, bigotry and discrimination among citizens of the United States,” the president said to thunderous applause. “Prejudice has no place in the United States of America.”
President Obama addressed some of the issues that are current obstacles in the African American community at the NAACP convention such as affordable health care, upgrading low-income housing, creating employment that cannot be outsourced to other countries and closing the educational gap between African Americans and their White counterparts.
“In the 21st century—when so many jobs will require a Bachelor’s degree or more, when countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow—a world-class education is a prerequisite for success,” Obama said at the NAACP convention. “African American students are lagging behind White classmates in reading and math—an achievement gap that is growing in states that once led the way on civil rights. Over half of all African American students are dropping out of school in some places…[Nevertheless,] all these innovative programs and expanded opportunities will not, in and of themselves, make a difference if each of us, as parents and as community leaders, fail to do our part by encouraging excellence in our children.”
Despite being an organization that has guided African Americans from lynchings, to Brown vs. Board of Education, to the Little Rock Nine’s integration of Central High, to the election of President Obama in 2008, many regretfully see the NAACP as very necessary to ensure equality. Although race relations have improved considerably since its inception, many instances of racism exist periodically in pockets of the country. Recently, some employees in the Houston Fire Department have been accused of hanging nooses in the lockers of African American firefighters.
Furthermore, as President Obama stated at the NAACP convention, many of the issues that are affecting the entire nation from quality education to affordable health care and stable jobs, are negatively affecting the African American community at a disproportionate rate.
Fortunately, the days of mass lynchings are in the past, but the crusade that Wells and the NAACP started at the dawn of the 20th century is still ongoing. As long as people of color are struggling to achieve equal education and equal pay on jobs, the spirit that was felt at the recent NAACP convention needs to carry the organization through its next 100 years.
Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.