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A Brief History of the San Diego NAACP, 1917-2007

In 1917, realizing the hunger for social justice among the one thousand African American residents of San Diego, W. E. B. DuBois traveled from Los Angeles to San Diego as part of his western states tour on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Having previously surveyed the city in 1913, and as editor of The Crisis, he undoubtedly was aware of the desire of individuals to form a branch of the NAACP in the city.  They included community leaders like Bethel A.M.E. Church co-founder Solomon Johnson and businessman Edward W. Anderson, the first African American in Southern California to file a racial discrimination lawsuit.  DuBois waxed poetic on the “hedges of gerania, fields of callas and star-eyed palms,” he saw as he encountered the flora of San Diego.  He then described the city’s small African American community as “kindly and thrifty [black citizens] with pushing leaders. . . .”

Following a meeting with some of these “kindly and thrifty” souls, DuBois posed for a photo with members of the Organizing Committee of the San Diego NAACP.  That photo symbolized DuBois’s recognition of the need for a branch in the rapidly growing city in the far southwestern corner of the United States.  In December 1918, the national headquarters in New York received an application for charter status which was approved in early 1919.  The confidence and fighting spirit DuBois saw in the black San Diegans he visited and in the 54 founding members of the branch would carry forward and generate a string of civil rights accomplishments stretching over nine decades.

In February 1924, San Diego NAACP president Elijah J. Gentry, a “shoe shiner” by trade and leader of the five year old branch sent a frank assessment of the racial climate in San Diego to NAACP field secretary James Weldon Johnson in New York.  “Colored people [in San Diego] are not allowed in restaurants, nor to drink soda water in drugstores, nor can they rent bathing suits at any bathing house or beach in this city,” Gentry

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