The National Association of the Advancement of Colored People
Almost 500,000 Americans of all races are members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in the world and probably the largest secular citizens action agency in the nation. Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the oldest civil rights organization as well as the most powerful and the most respected today. The NAACP is the national spokesperson for black Americans and other minorities, and for those who support civil rights objectives in America. Organized in virtually every city and town where black Americans reside, the NAACP both articulates the grievances of black Americans and protects their rights by whatever legal means necessary (Join the NAACP). Many manners are used by the NAACP to accomplish their policy goals. Three such manners are grassroots activism, lobbying, and educating.
Marches, protests, canvassing, phone calls, and demonstrations are only a few devices used by the NAACP in their fight for equal rights (McBride). In October 1998, NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume and eighteen other activists were arrested during a mass demonstration to protest the “shameful and hypocritical record” of the Supreme Court Justices in hiring minority clerks. The protest was held in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., with the crowd shouting “No justice, no peace” (“Activists Arrested”). The Justices up to that point had hired only seven black Americans out of 428 clerks. Groups that participated in the demonstration included the National Bar Association, the United Auto Workers, the National Organization for Women, as well as many others (“Activists Arrested”). Mfume also participated in a protest rally March 18, 1999, in front of New York City’s Police Headquarters to decry the police killing of 22-year-old Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant, the previous month. Mfume was expecting “direct, immediate action by the White House, the U.S. Justice Department and the NY Mayor’s Office” (“NY Protest”). On November 9, 1999, Florida Governor Jeb Bush “empowered the Board of Regents and the Florida Legislature to do away with Affirmative Action” with the proposal of the One Florida Initiative (Haggard). A coalition of civil rights, labor, women’s rights, federal and state legislators, and religious leaders called for a March on Tallahassee in order to demonstrate the amount of support that affirmative action has in the state. This is only done following a 25-hour sit-in led by Florida State Senator Kendrick Meek and Representative Tony Hill January 18-19, 2000. That sit-in ended when Governor Bush agreed to three public hearings on his One Florida Initiative (Haggard). For Election Day 2000, the Data Retrieval Team (DART) became foot canvassers. This team was composed of volunteers who walked from house to house putting up door hangers/sample ballots and trying to influence the people at the doors to vote (“Election”). The homes targeted were not only those of black Americans, but of other minorities as well (Hilary).
Since 1914, the NAACP Legislative Report Card has functioned as a presentation of significant civil rights votes taken in the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. This Report Card is intended to supply citizens with insight into the general voting habits of their congressional representatives and delegations. The latest edition contains votes taken from the 106th Congress through July 10, 2000. The Report Card provides legislation descriptions from both Houses, whether it passed or failed, and whether the NAACP agreed with or opposed the legislation. It also lists all Senators and Representatives, whether they voted for or against the NAACP position on legislation, and a grade based on the percentage of percentage of votes in agreement with the NAACP. Not surprisingly, most Democrats got A’s or B’s, and Republicans got D’s or F’s. The NAACP Washington Bureau, the department that specializes in lobbying, is in charge of this Legislative Report Card (Hilary). Since becoming the bureau director in 1997, Hilary Shelton has been responsible for advocating the NAACP agenda in Congress. The Bureau releases testimony with reference to hearings on certain bills. For example, they published Harold McDougall’s testimony at a hearing about including multiracial categories in the United States Census. Shelton has been pushing Congress to pass the Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) as the first step to produce a “much-needed study” into the problem of police stopping drivers only because they are black Americans or some other ethnic minority (Hilary). He calls them “Driving While Black (DWB)” statistics (Hilary). One of the most recent example of lobbying done by the NAACP is the economic sanctions against South Carolina began January 1, 2000. Until the Confederate battle flag was removed from atop the Statehouse, removed from within the House and Senate Chambers, and relegated to a place of historical context only, the NAACP had its members and supporters—along with corporations, religious, and civic organizations—postpone or relocate vacations, family reunions, meetings, conventions, or workshops in the state. The Association feels that the flag represents “one of the most reprehensible aspects of American history” (Hilary). After losing well over $100 million in the tourism industry alone, the Confederate flag was moved, from the location where it had been since 1962, to an area near the South Carolina Confederate Soldiers Monument (McBride). After the hateful July 20, 2000 murder of Arthur “J.R.” Warren, an African-American, gay West Virginia resident, Hilary Shelton as well as Warren’s parents and a coalition of civil rights groups, met with U.S. Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C. Shelton spoke in strong favor of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which suggests stronger penalties for persons who willfully injure anyone because of his or her race, color, religion, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation. As of now, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is in serious jeopardy of being eliminated from the final version of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill. The local NAACP branch in West Virginia continues to monitor the case as well as work with the Warren family. The hearings for the two teenagers accused of the murder are not scheduled until late November and early December 2000 (Hilary).
The NAACP educates the public on issues such as voter empowerment, health, labor, minority-owned housing, youth and college, and economic development, as well as others. The Association informs citizens through town hall meetings, conventions and conferences, special meetings, and newsletters on issues relevant to the minority community. Because of the NAACP’s voter empowerment efforts, history was made in Morgan City, Louisiana with the Morgan City Get out the Vote (GOTV) Project. During local elections on October 7, 2000, 80% of all registered black America voters in Morgan City made their voices heard. William Bradford, Jr. became the first African-American elected official since reconstruction (McBride). On September 12, 2000, in Selma, Alabama, the NAACP held its breath and waited to find out if its efforts would override the efforts of whites in the city to stop black Americans from voting in that day’s special election that pitted black businessman James Perkins against Mayor Joe Smitherman, a former segregationist who had played a role in the hostility and bloodshed Selma had so famously experienced in 1965. Perkins won, becoming the first black American mayor for Selma. Kweisi Mfume stressed the importance of registering and voting during an unprecedented radio broadcast of the Tom Joyner Morning Show (TJMS). The voter empowerment messages delivered throughout the four-hour, all-talk broadcast galvanized more than 10,000 listeners nationwide to call the toll-free NAACP Voter Empowerment 2000 Hotline (1-866-YES-VOTE) to register to vote (McBride). In a collaborative effort, the NAACP, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), and Allstate Insurance Company have joined together to develop “The Law and You: Guidelines for Interacting with Law Enforcement Officials.” The pamphlet offers suggested procedures to follow if someone—mainly an adolescent—is stopped by a police officer or law enforcement official, regardless of the reason. The suggestions are to be used as guidelines until professional legal advice and guidance can be obtained (“Law and You”). The Legal Department of the NAACP provides legal advice and representation to the more than 2,000 state, local, youth, and college affiliations of the Association. The Department also provides research, pleadings, briefs, and other legal resources to litigants through affiliates and a network of cooperating attorneys who help with NAACP litigation (McBride). The NAACP Back-To-School/Stay-In-School (BTS/SIS) Program is an incentive-based program seeking the retention and graduation of at-risk youth, mainly black Americans and other minorities. The aim of the program is to boost the number of skilled, knowledgeable youth graduating from high school by providing them with mentoring, tutoring, remedial assistance, and incentives for maintaining regular attendance, thus creating a more pleasant attitude toward education. Encouragement by way of cultural and extra curricular activities is also offered to increase self-worth, cultural awareness, and community service (McBride). These are only a couple of the programs the NAACP uses to education the public.
Although not every action that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People takes results in the passing of a new bill, every action taken does effectively lift the voice of each member so that it may be heard. By interacting directly with the community, by helping the public to understand better what is happening with the nation, and by making the people more knowledgeable on the issues that are important to them, the NAACP proves to be an interest group that is successful in winning its battles, big and small, no matter how long, hard, or costly the fight may be.
1. Douglas, Sheila. “NAACP’s Mfume & 18 Activists Arrested at Supreme Court Protest.” NAACP Online. 6 October 1998. (16 November 2000).
2. ——. “NAACP to Join NY Protest of Diallo Police Killing.” NAACP Online. 17 March 1999. (16 November 2000).
3. “Election Day Instructions.” Voter Action Alert. October 2000. 6, 7, & 13.
4. Hilary Shelton. Telephone Interview. 17 November 2000.
5. “The Law and You: Guidelines for Interacting with Law Enforcement Officials.” [Pamphlet].
6. McBride, Fred. “Help with Assignment.” 13 November 2000. Personal Email. (14 November 2000).
7. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Join the NAACP. [Pamphlet]. Baltimore.
8. Haggard, Christopher M. “Why March?” March on Tallahassee. (16 November 2000).