National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organization composed mainly of American blacks, but with many white members, whose goal is the end of racial discrimination and segregation.

The association was formed as the direct result of the lynching (1908) of two blacks in Springfield, Ill. The incident produced a wide response by white Northerners to a call by Mary W. Ovington, a white woman, for a conference to discuss ways of achieving political and social equality for blacks. This conference led to the formation (1910) of the NAACP, headed by eight prominent Americans, seven white and one, William E. B. Du Bois, black. The selection of Du Bois was significant, for he was a black who had rejected the policy of gradualism advocated by Booker T. Washington and demanded immediate equality for blacks. From 1910 to 1934 Du Bois was the editor of the association's periodical The Crisis, which reported on race relations around the world. The new organization grew so rapidly that by 1915 it was able to organize a partially successful boycott of the motion picture The Birth of a Nation, which portrayed blacks of the Reconstruction era in a distorted light.

Most of the NAACP's early efforts were directed against lynching. In this area it could claim considerable success. In 1911 there were 71 lynchings in the United States, with a black person the victim 63 times; by the 1950s lynching had virtually disappeared. Since its beginning, and with increasing emphasis since World War II, the NAACP has advocated nonviolent protests against discrimination and has disapproved of extremist black groups such as SNCC and the Black Panthers in the 1960s and 70s and CORE and the Nation of Islam in the 1980s and 90s, many of which criticized the organization as passive. While complacent in the 1980s, it became more active in legislative redistricting, voter registration, and lobbying in the 1990s.

Well-known leaders of the NAACP include Moorfield Storey (1910–29), Walter White (1931–55), Roy Wilkins (1955–77), and Benjamin Hooks (1977–93). In the mid-1990s the group faced financial difficulties and a loss of confidence in its leadership, as the organization's executive director, Benjamin Chavis (see Muhammad, B. F.), and then its board chairman were dismissed in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Representative Kweisi Mfume of Maryland, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was chosen to replace Chavis in 1996, with the new title of president and chief executive officer. Mfume retired as president in 2004 and was succeeded by Bruce S. Gordon, a former telecommunications executive, who served from 2005 to 2007, Benjamin Todd Jealous, who served from 2008 to 2013, and Cornell William Brooks, who served from 2014 to 2017.

With a membership of about 300,000, the association remains the most influential civil-rights organization in the United States. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, an independent legal aid group, argues in court on behalf of the NAACP and other civil-rights groups. Along with the NAACP, it was instrumental in helping to bring about the Supreme Court's ruling (1954) against segregated public education in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. case.

See R. L. Jack, A History of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1943); L. Hughes, Fight for Freedom (1962); B. J. Ross, J. E. Spingarn and the Rise of the NAACP, 1911–1939 (1972); R. L. Zangrando, The NAACP Crusade against Lynching, 1909 to 1950 (1980).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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