During a press conference held outside the administration building of Prince George's County, Maryland, five miles east of Washington D.C., state and county representatives of the NAACP urged people to attend the 50th commemorative March on Washington scheduled for Saturday. Throughout their speech, the NAACP county and state presidents stressed the continued need for their organization.
The 1908 Springfield, Illinois race riot was seen as the impetus for organizing a grassroots organization to deal with the unique problems facing the black community. White activists actually organized the original meeting, with prominent members of the African-American community in attendance, to establish such an organization. Immediately after its founding, the NAACP began fighting to further civil rights causes through the courts, lobbying of public officials, and grassroots organizing. The NAACP has played a pivotal role in numerous civil rights cases and legislation. Following the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and gradual decline in the more overt forms of racial discrimination, some in society began to question the NAACP’s role in society. Although much has been done to improve civil rights protections, there is still a need for organizations like the NAACP as many controversial social and institutional practices and policies still threaten to deny many Americans their human and civil rights.
During their press conference, NAACP representatives cited new, more covert forms of discrimination, such as the recent spate of Voter ID laws, as threats to civil protections many people gave their lives to acquire. In fact, the NAACP recently filed a lawsuit against North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory over the recent passage of the state’s strict Voter ID law, which many in the civil rights community believe was passed to suppress voter turnout among Democratic constituents in the Republican-controlled state. A look at the current list of issues of concern to the NAACP shows that they run the gamut from political to educational, economic development, and health related. In keeping with its mission, the NAACP is still fighting to improve the quality of life for African-Americans by fighting for causes that will ensure greater civil protections for all Americans. As a large established private organization, the NAACP has the capacity and influence to continue to play a major role in the stewardship of American civil liberties.
There are some who view the NAACP as a racist organization aimed at furthering issues of concern to the African-American community at the expense of other segments of the population. However, many who espouse these beliefs are most likely not aware of the strong influence white and Jewish Americans have had throughout the organization’s history, nor of the fact that the NAACP has furthered causes and supported groups not directly tied to the African-American community. Some feel that an organization based solely on race ostensibly fighting for causes that will benefit a particular group in society is in itself racist. However, this view of such organizations demonstrates an unnuanced view on issues of race. Considering intent is very important when examining such organizations. Unlike overtly antagonist hate and extremist groups, the NAACP never set out to prove the superiority of one racial or ethnic group over another, and is an inclusive organization that does not deny entry to any person in opposition to injustice. The NAACP is no more racist than any other religiously or ethnically based organization which aims to the improve the lives of the people it serves and represents. Actions taken by the NAACP to limit the civil liberties of any other group of individuals in society would violate its core mission and principles and severely undermine its credibility.
The NAACP was one of the most influential organizations of the 20th century, helping bring about substantial social and institutional changes in the most powerful nation in the world. With racial inequality still existing in many aspects of modern society, organizations like the NAACP can still play a vital role in addressing them for the betterment of the nation. Going forward, the NAACP should use its breadth and reach to mobilize the African-American community through education and empowerment. All organizations committed to improving the lives of marginalized populations need to do a better job of helping affected communities develop action plans to directly address the issues affecting their communities. There are even individuals within the African-American community that question the need for the NAACP. This could probably be attributed to the relative lack of blatant discrimination that was so prevalent during the last century, and what some label as lip-service by past leaders that never amounted to much real change in their community. It is time for the NAACP and all groups striving to give all Americans equal opportunity in society to become more active in bringing about real change to marginalized and disenfranchised communities.