The National Association Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) grew out of race riots that occurred in Springfield, Illinois, in August 1908. In the beginning, the black people were in such a crisis, that a group of white liberals and socialists, and descendants of abolitionists called for a meeting to discuss racial injustice. When I discussed the NAACP with my students, they were amazed that the NAACP was started by a white socialist, William English Walling, who wrote a magazine article that called for the formation of a group to come to the aid of African Americans. Although there were many white separatists practicing hatred against people of African descent, there were white people who aided African Americans and fought against racial injustice too. The organization formerly known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and now simply called, NAACP is the oldest and largest Civil Rights organization in the United States, and began initially to advocate for people of color, but branched out to assist all racial injustice.
Many forms of segregation that were being practiced before 1950 allowed Whites to be in control of the laws. African Americans were prohibited from using public restaurants, bathrooms transportation and to participate in voter's registration. Large signs were posted with "Whites Only", to prohibit African Americans from patronizing their businesses. These facilities were separate, and not nearly equal to the quality and standards of the establishments reserved for whites. The policy with the bus transportation was for African Americans to sit in the back of the bus, and if a white person needed the seating, African Americans were to give their seats up or be arrested. Many of my students will be familiar with the case concerning Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat for a white man, which sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Boycott was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP. This case also was the beginning of the civil rights movement. On the 1st of December 1955, Rosa Parks caught a bus home from work in Montgomery, Alabama and put in jail. She was the secretary of the local NAACP, and news of what had happened quickly spread across Montgomery. Martin Luther King organized a successful non-violent protest through boycotting the buses. November 1956 the Supreme Court announced that segregation on buses was illegal. These laws that protected Whites, and separated them from Blacks were called the "Jim Crow Laws". (From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality, Klarman, Michael) Without having Blacks in politics to change legislation, these laws were enforced by Southern whites. In addition, voter registration fraud was a major factor in elections when African Americans were not allowed to vote due to technicalities and peer pressure. Whites used literacy tests and other obstacles to stop the African American vote from being counted. Another way that was used to hinder voter registration (which was not that of a law) was social peer pressure. A statement from Janet Harris, a civil rights worker for the National Association for the Advancement of Colour People issued this: "A negro in the deep south who tried to register might lose his job or his credit. He might be beaten, have his house set on fire or be killed. 'I don't want my job cut off', one man explained. Another man was more blunt 'I don't want my throat cut' he said." Threats of being killed by white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and law enforcement presented to oppress the African American people for many years to come.
The NAACP has had many victories in landmark Supreme Court cases such as brown v. board of education (1954) and the sponsorship of grassroots social programs. A Newsweek article, dated 5/14/14; Newsweek Rewind: 60 Years since Brown v. Board of Ed Desegregated U.S. Schools by Rob Verger, reported that:
"The Supreme Court, by unanimous vote, ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate schools for black and white Americans were not equal. The decision reversed the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, which had said that "separate but equal" was OK—and was, to say the least, a major setback for civil rights in the United States. People waited in line hoping to get a seat in the Supreme Court for the Brown v Board Education. While Newsweek reflected in 1954 that Brown v. Board of Ed would "ultimately…mean the end of segregation in all public places, everywhere in the United States," it would take another decade for the federal government, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to make segregation in places like restaurants illegal."
The NAACP has been a leader in the effort to guarantee that African Americans and members of other racial minorities receive equal protection under the law. From the beginning, the NAACP made legal action on behalf of African Americans a top priority. It won early Supreme Court victories in Guinn v. United States, (1915), which overturned the Grandfather Clause as a means of disfranchising black voters, and in Buchanan v. Warley (1917), which barred municipal ordinances requiring racial segregation in housing. The grandfather clause imposed a literacy test on persons who were not entitled to vote prior to 1866. This meant that all slaves and their descendants had to pass a rigorous literacy test based on knowledge of the state constitution and other highly technical documents. Just recently, a Supreme Court case was decided here in New Haven, CT. The NAACP provided legal action for RICCI ET AL. v. DESTEFANO ET AL. (2009). This case was argued that the City uses objective examinations to identify those firefighters best qualified for promotion. Few, if any, African Americans passed the literacy test in the early years of the NAACP; which hasn't changed much from what happened when the fire fighters completed their exams in New Haven, almost a century later.