On February 12, the NAACP will celebrate its 101st anniversary. Born out of violence and the good will of abolitionists nearly half a century after the Declaration of Emancipation, the NAACP waged successive campaigns to shield the African-American from mortal danger, bring about suffrage and other civil rights, and fight discrimination. The fight for equality in law, in practice, and in the attitudes of some in mainstream White community continues to this day though the campaign has culminated in the election of the first African-American president. Hence, the NAACP continues to declare its mission as to “Ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination” (NAACP, 2009a, 2).
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Sources of Power
In contemporary times, the wellsprings of NAACP power derives from the Civil Rights Acts of 1960 and 1964. The first streamlined the procedures by which the Attorney General could bring suit on a case-by-case basis for violations of the anti-discrimination law. The second refined the process, besides prohibiting discrimination in education and disallowing selective voter screening for Whites and Blacks. In the ensuing decades, of course, enough African-Americans have gained the confidence and stature to bring suit themselves and gain truly equal protection under the law.
Power also comes from the growing size of the NAACP constituency to unite as a voting bloc. At last count, “blacks alone or in combination” accounted for one in eight American adults. However, just under two-thirds (61%) were registered and of those, only two in five (41%) actually voted in the mid-term election of 2006. These turnouts are actually sub-par compared to the registration and voting rates for the population as a whole: 68% and 48%, respectively (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009).
Uses of Power
Initially, the NAACP was organized to lobby for enabling legislation and implementation of three amendments to the Constitution: emancipation from slavery, equal protection under the law, and the right to suffrage for all adult males. When one reflects on the fact the nation has had to enshrine a Martin Luther King Day and that the Democratic party official and Birmingham, Alabama police commissioner “Bull” Connor used police dogs and a tank against those protesting the city’s segregation laws as recently as the early 1960s, one can see how the NAACP had its work cut out for it (NAACP, 2009b).
In fact, the precipitating events for the birth of the NAACP was a 1908 riot in Springfield, Illinois and the persistent lynching of Blacks by racist groups. These represented mortal danger to African-Americans that continued for more than half a century after the NAACP was organized. In 1908, a mixed group of White abolitionists and Blacks assembled to sign a declaration calling for racial justice.
Taking action against lynching, first NAACP President Moorfield Storey finally became convinced in 1919 that the Anti-Lynching Dyer Bill was constitutionally sound. The organization then pressed for passage of the bill but resistance in the Senate halted it in its tracks. In 1935, the Costigan-Wagner Bill failed to override opposition by Southern members of Congress and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt because of the provision that sheriffs would be held liable if a prisoner of theirs got lynched by a mob. Nevertheless, the NAACP soldiered on until the 1950s.
The fairer racial climate of contemporary times has permitted the NAACP to shift to more constructive initiatives. For 41 years running, the organization has mounted its own counterpart to the Oscars, the Image Awards. On top of celebrating obvious role models like Michael Jackson (for the release of “This Is It”), this year’s nominees for Best Actor/Actress include such household names as Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. Being effectively color-blind, the NAACP included Sandra Bullock among the nominees.
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Another worthwhile use of organizational power is mustering the buying power of minority households with the “Economic Reciprocity Report.”
NAACP (2009a). About the NAACP. Web.
NAACP (2009b). History. Web.
U.S. Census Bureau (2009). Voting and registration in the election of November 2006. Web.