This year the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People celebrates its 100th anniversary. In the article below historian Susan Bragg provides a brief introduction to the history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the oldest continually active civil rights organization in the United States.
Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has provided critical institutional support and leadership in the fight against racial inequalities in America. Although sometimes criticized as too moderate or bureaucratic in nature, the NAACP’s repeated legal campaigns eventually overturned the infamous 1896 Supreme Court ruling sanctioning segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson) and is still a significant political organization to this day.
A violent mob attack on black residents of Springfield, Illinois in 1908 galvanized a handful of progressive white social activists to reach out to African American leaders. Socialist William English Walling, settlement house worker Mary White Ovington, Jewish social worker Henry Moskowitz, and Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, circulated “The Call” to protest the rise of racial violence and discrimination around the nation. They were joined in this venture by black sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois. Long a critic of the “social uplift” agenda advocated by black educator Booker T. Washington, Du Bois saw the NAACP as both an opportunity to re-invigorate demands for full black civil rights and an important reminder of the national dimensions of Jim Crow. After a series of meetings held in 1909 and 1910, the NAACP emerged as an organization dedicated to protesting racial inequality in American public life.
Over the course of the 20th century, the NAACP explicitly promoted itself as a model of interracial exchange, while also implicitly encouraging activism by both men and women. Initially, formal national leadership positions in the NAACP were largely held by white progressives based