February 9, 2008

Vol. 1, No. 1 of The Crisis. (Newseum collection)

And Justice For All: NAACP at 100

In early 1909, a group of black and white activists gathered in a New York apartment with a daunting task before them: how to end the racial discrimination levied against black Americans?

On Feb. 12 — President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was born. It remains the nation’s oldest champion for civil rights. The date of the organization’s founding was intentional.

"Besides being a day for rejoicing, [Lincoln’s birthday] should be one of taking stock of the nation’s progress since 1865," said Mary White Ovington, a suffragist, journalist and one of the NAACP’s founders. "How far has it lived up to the obligations imposed upon it by the Emancipation Proclamation?"

The answer was not a promising one. In 1908, the bloody race riots that erupted in Springfield, Ill., served as the catalyst for forming the NAACP. Joining Ovington in her crusade were fellow journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, physician Henry Moskowitz, newspaper editor Oswald Garrison Villard, labor reformer William English Walling, noted scholar W.E.B. DuBois, and others.

DuBois became editor of The Crisis, the organization’s monthly magazine established in 1910 that is still published today. Under his leadership, The Crisis became known as "the voice of militant black America" and addressed all forms of discrimination with editorial assaults on the Ku Klux Klan, the South’s ugly tradition of lynching and President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to segregate the federal government. A 1910 edition of The Crisis is on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

The NAACP’s legal arm took on notable people and institutions in its fight against injustice. In 1954, it won one of its biggest court battles with Brown v. the Board of Education. Member Rosa Parks also sparked the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, which led to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 2000, organizers held "The Great March" in Columbia, S.C., to protest the flying of the Confederate flag.

The inauguration of the country’s first black president in 2009 holds special significance as the NAACP turns 100. As current NAACP president Ben Jealous recently noted in The Seattle Medium, a black newspaper, though people are still adversely affected by race in America, Barack Obama’s presidency represents "a culmination of a long march for justice."

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