From the Letters to the Editor column of the September 2009 issue of Perspectives on History

The NAACP Is a Hundred Years Old

Lisa A. Pace and Robert L. Zangrando, September 2009

Editor's Note: Perspectives on History welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be sent to Letters to the Editor (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives on History, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.

To the Editor:

Unable to attend the AHA annual meeting this past January, we appreciated the opportunity to read the remarks of four panelists at the session on Obama’s historic election (Perspectives on History, April 2009, 29–35).

February 12, 2009 was notable for three important historical celebrations: the bicentennials of Abraham Lincoln and of Charles Darwin; unfortunately, the centennial of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) got little or no attention. Courageous in the face of widespread racism, the NAACP founders and their successors spearheaded the drive to overcome the worst aspects of Jim Crow and to educate the American public on the need for and wisdom of interracial reform. The scholarship of W.E.B. Du Bois in his independent writings and as editor of The Crisis, and the lobbying efforts of his colleague, Executive Secretary James Weldon Johnson, set the tone for a 100-year, social justice crusade.

Thereafter, from 1929 to his death in 1955, Johnson’s successor, Walter White, forced the issue of interracial reform to the center of national discourse. By working the halls of Congress, negotiating with the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, formulating the mid-century civil-rights coalition of labor, liberal, ethnic, women’s, church, and minority groups, and working for decolonization of oppressed peoples across the globe, White made the quest for minority rights a topic the public could no longer ignore. Meanwhile, a battery of NAACP attorneys, headed by Thurgood Marshall, secured Supreme Court decisions in housing, transportation, voting, and education, which transformed the legal landscape and status of minority citizens. White’s successor, Roy Wilkins—further empowered by the work of activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC, CORE, and SNCC—helped achieve the long-time NAACP goals of five Civil-Rights Acts and two Constitutional amendments between 1957 and 1968.

We risk our understanding of Obama’s historic election if we overlook the foundations that made possible his ready access to higher education, his service in the Illinois legislature, his Senatorial years, his primary campaigns, his election, and his Presidency.

—Lisa A. Pace
Robert L. Zangrando
University of Akron