The NAACP is run nationally by a 64-member board of directors led by a chairman. The board elects one person as the president and chief executive officer for the organization; Benjamin Jealous is its most recent (and youngest) President, selected to replace Bruce S. Gordon, who resigned in March 2007. Civil Rights Movement activist and former Georgia state representative Julian Bond remains as chairman.
Departments within the NAACP govern areas of action. Local chapters are supported by the Branch and Field Services department and the Youth and College department. The Legal Department focuses on court cases of broad application to minorities, such as systematic discrimination in employment, government, or education. The Washington, D.C. bureau is responsible for lobbying the U.S. government; and the Education Department works to improve public education at the local, state and federal levels. The goal of the Health Division is to advance health care for minorities through public policy initiatives and education.
As of 2007, the NAACP had approximately 400,000 paying and non-paying members.
Because hotels in the U.S. were segregated, the men convened under the leadership of Harvard scholar W.E.B. Du Bois at a hotel situated on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. As a result, the group came to be known as the Niagara Movement. A year later, three whites joined the group: journalist William E. Walling; social worker Mary White Ovington; and Jewish social worker Henry Moskowitz.
The fledgling group struggled for a time with limited resources and decided to broaden its membership to increase its scope and effectiveness. Solicitations for support went out to more than 60 prominent Americans, and a meeting date was set for February 12, 1909. This was intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, who emancipated enslaved African Americans. While the meeting did not take place until three months later, this date is often cited as the founding date of the organization.
The Springfield Race Riot of 1908 in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois the previous summer had highlighted the urgent need for an effective civil rights organization in the U.S. This event is often cited as the spark that initiated the formation of the NAACP.
The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909 by a diverse group composed of W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimké, Henry Moskowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villard, and William English Walling, the last being and son of a former slaveholding family),
On May 30 1909, the Niagara Movement conference took place at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House, from which an organization of more than 40 individuals emerged, calling itself the National Negro Committee. Du Bois played a key role in organizing the event and presided over the proceedings. Also in attendance was African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett, co-founder of the NAACP. At its second conference,on May 30, 1910, members chose as the organization's name the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and elected its first officers who were (according to Mary White Ovington): • National President, Moorfield Storey, Boston • Chairman of the Executive Committee, William English Walling • Treasurer, John E. Milholland (a Lincoln Republican and Presbyterian from New York City and Lewis, NY) • Disbursing Treasurer, Oswald Garrison Villard • Executive Secretary, Frances Blascoer • Director of Publicity and Research, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois.
The NAACP was incorporated a year later in 1911. The association's charter delineated its mission:
To promote equality of rights and to eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for the children, employment according to their ability and complete equality before law.
The conference resulted in a more influential and diverse organization, where the leadership was predominantly white and heavily Jewish American. In fact, at its founding, the NAACP had only one African American on its executive board, Du Bois himself. It did not elect a black president until 1975, although executive directors had been African American. The Jewish community contributed greatly to the NAACP's founding and continued financing. Jewish historian Howard Sachar writes in his book A History of Jews in America of how, "In 1914, Professor Emeritus Joel Spingarn of Columbia University became chairman of the NAACP and recruited for its board such Jewish leaders as Jacob Schiff, Jacob Billikopf, and Rabbi Stephen Wise." Early Jewish-American co-founders included Julius Rosenthal, Lillian Wald, Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch and Wise.
Du Bois continued to play a pivotal role in the organization and served as editor of the association's magazine, The Crisis, which had a circulation of over 30,000.
Moorfield Storey, who was white, was the president of the NAACP from its founding to 1915. Storey was a long-time classical liberal and Grover Cleveland-Democrat who advocated laissez-faire free markets, the gold standard, and anti-imperialism. Storey consistently and aggressively championed civil rights not only for blacks but also for Native Americans and immigrants (he opposed immigration restrictions).
By 1914, the group had 6,000 members and 50 branches, and was influential in winning the right of African Americans to serve as officers in World War I. Six hundred African-American officers were commissioned and 700,000 men registered for the draft. The following year the NAACP organized a nationwide protest, with marches in numerous cities, against D.W. Griffith's silent film Birth of a Nation, a film that glamorized the Ku Klux Klan. As a result, several cities refused to allow the film to open.
The NAACP began to lead lawsuits targeting disfranchisement and racial segregation early in its history. It played a significant part in the challenge of Guinn v. Harris (1915) to Oklahoma's discriminatory grandfather clause that disfranchised most black citizens while exempting many whites from certain voter registration requirements. It persuaded the Supreme Court of the United States to rule in Buchanan v. Warley in 1917 that states and local governments cannot officially segregate African Americans into separate residential districts. The Court's opinion reflected the jurisprudence of property rights and freedom of contract as embodied in the earlier precedent it established in Lochner v. New York.
In 1916, when the NAACP was just seven years old, chairman Joel Spingarn invited James Weldon Johnson to serve as field secretary. Johnson was a former U.S. consul to Venezuela and a noted scholar and columnist. Within four years, Johnson was instrumental in increasing the NAACP's membership from 9,000 to almost 90,000. In 1920, Johnson was elected head of the organization. Over the next ten years, the NAACP escalated its lobbying and litigation efforts, becoming internationally known for its advocacy of equal rights and equal protection for the "American Negro".
The NAACP devoted much of its energy during the inter-war years to fighting the lynching of blacks throughout the United States by working for legislation, by lobbying and by educating the public. The organization sent its field secretary Walter F. White to Phillips County, Arkansas, in October, 1919, to investigate the Elaine Race Riot. More than 200 black tenant farmers were killed by roving white vigilantes and federal troops after a deputy sheriff's attack on a union meeting of sharecroppers left one white man dead. White published his report on the riot in the Chicago Daily News. The NAACP organized the appeals for twelve black men sentenced to death a month later — based on the fact that testimony used in their convictions was obtained by beatings and electric shocks — and gained a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in Moore v. Dempsey that significantly expanded the Federal courts' oversight of the states' criminal justice systems in the years to come. White investigated eight race riots and 41 lynchings for the NAACP and directed its study Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States.
The NAACP also spent more than a decade seeking federal legislation against lynching, but southern white Democrats voted as a block against it or used the filibuster in the Senate to block passage. The NAACP regularly displayed a black flag stating "A Man Was Lynched Yesterday" from the window of its offices in New York to mark each lynching.
In alliance with the American Federation of Labor, the NAACP led the successful fight to prevent the nomination of John Johnston Parker to the Supreme Court, based on his support for denying the vote to blacks and his anti-labor rulings. It organized support for the Scottsboro Boys. The NAACP lost most of the internecine battles with the Communist Party and International Labor Defense over the control of those cases and the strategy to be pursued in that case.
The organization also brought litigation to challenge the "white primary" system in the South. Southern states had created white-only primaries as another way of barring blacks from the political process. Since southern states were one-party states, the primaries were the only competitive contests. In 1944 in Smith v. Allwright, the Supreme Court ruled against the white primary. Although states had to retract legislation related to the white primaries, the legislatures soon came up with new methods to limit the franchise for blacks.
With the rise of private corporate litigators like the NAACP to bear the expense, civil suits became the pattern in modern civil rights litigation. The NAACP's Legal department, headed by Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, undertook a campaign spanning several decades to bring about the reversal of the "separate but equal" doctrine announced by the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.
The NAACP's Baltimore chapter under president Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson, challenged segregation in Maryland state professional schools by supporting the 1935 Murray v. Pearson case argued by Marshall. Houston's victory in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) led to the formation of the NAACP Legal Defense fund in 1940. The campaign for desegregation culminated in a unanimous 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that held state-sponsored segregation of elementary schools was unconstitutional.
Bolstered by that victory, the NAACP pushed for full desegregation throughout the South. Starting on December 5, 1955, NAACP activists, including E.D. Nixon, its local president, and Rosa Parks, who had served as the chapter's Secretary, helped organize a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. This was designed to protest segregation on the city's buses, when two-thirds of the riders were black. The boycott lasted 381 days.
The State of Alabama responded by effectively barring the NAACP from operating within its borders for its refusal to divulge a list of its members. The NAACP feared members could be fired or face violent retaliation for their activities. Although the Supreme Court eventually overturned the state's action in NAACP v. Alabama, , the NAACP lost its leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement while it was barred from Alabama. New organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) rose up with different approaches to activism. These newer groups relied on direct action and mass mobilization, rather than litigation and legislation, to advance the rights of African Americans. Roy Wilkins, NAACP's executive director, clashed repeatedly with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders over questions of strategy and leadership within the movement.
The NAACP continued to use the Supreme Court's decision in Brown to press for desegregation of schools and public facilities throughout the country. Daisy Bates, president of its Arkansas state chapter, spearheaded the campaign by the Little Rock Nine to integrate the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
By the mid-1960s, the NAACP had regained some of its preeminence in the Civil Rights Movement by pressing for civil rights legislation. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963. That fall President John F. Kennedy sent a civil rights bill to Congress before he was assassinated. President Lyndon B. Johnson worked hard to persuade Congress to pass a civil rights bill aimed at ending racial discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations, and succeeded in gaining passage in July 1964. He followed that with passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided for protection of the franchise, with a role for federal administrators in places where voter turnout was historically low.
After Kivie Kaplan died in 1975, scientist W. Montague Cobb became President of the NAACP and served until 1982. Benjamin Hooks, a lawyer and clergyman, was elected as the NAACP's executive director in 1977, after the retirement of Roy Wilkins.
In 1993 the NAACP's Board of Directors narrowly selected Reverend Benjamin Chavis over Reverend Jesse Jackson to fill the position of Executive Director. A controversial figure, Chavis was ousted eighteen months later by the same board that had hired him. They accused him of using NAACP funds for an out-of-court settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Following the dismissal of Chavis, Myrlie Evers-Williams narrowly defeated NAACP chairperson William Gibson for president in 1995, after Gibson was accused of overspending and mismanagement of the organization's funds. In 1996 Congressman Kweisi Mfume, a Democratic Congressman from Maryland and former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was named the organization's president. Three years later strained finances forced the organization to drastically cut its staff, from 250 in 1992 to just fifty.
In the second half of the 1990s, the organization restored its finances, permitting the NAACP National Voter Fund to launch a major get-out-the-vote offensive in the 2000 U.S. presidential elections. 10.5 million African Americans cast their ballots in the election. This was one million more than four years before, and the NAACP's effort was credited by observers as playing a significant role in Democrat Al Gore's winning several states where the election was close, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume immediately suspended Alcorn and condemned his remarks. Mfume stated, "I strongly condemn those remarks. I find them to be repulsive, anti-Semitic, anti-NAACP and anti-American. Mr. Alcorn does not speak for the NAACP, its board, its staff or its membership. We are proud of our long-standing relationship with the Jewish community and I personally will not tolerate statements that run counter to the history and beliefs of the NAACP in that regard."
Alcorn, who had been suspended three times in the previous five years for misconduct, subsequently resigned from the NAACP and started his own organization called the Coalition for the Advancement of Civil Rights. Alcorn criticized the NAACP, saying, "I can't support the leadership of the NAACP. Large amounts of money are being given to them by large corporations that I have a problem with." Alcorn also said, "I cannot be bought. For this reason I gladly offer my resignation and my membership to the NAACP because I cannot work under these constraints."
Alcorn's remarks were also condemned by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jewish groups and George W. Bush's rival Republican presidential campaign. Jackson said he strongly supported Lieberman's addition to the Democratic ticket, saying, "When we live our faith, we live under the law. He [Lieberman] is a firewall of exemplary behavior." Al Sharpton, another prominent African-American leader, said, "The appointment of Mr Lieberman was to be welcomed as a positive step."
On July 20, 2006, after having declined the civil rights group's invitations for five years, Bush addressed the NAACP convention. He made a bid for increasing support by African Americans for Republicans, in the midst of a midterm election.
Mission of the Youth Council
"The mission of the NAACP Youth & College Division shall be to inform youth of the problems affecting African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities; to advance the economic, education, social and political status of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities and their harmonious cooperation with other peoples; to stimulate an appreciation of the African Diaspora and other people of color’s contribution to civilization; and to develop an intelligent, militant effective youth leadership"