It was founded in 1909 in New York City by white and Black activists, partially in response to the ongoing violence against African Americans around the country.
An anti-lynching campaign was central to its early agenda. During the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s, the group won major legal victories, and today the NAACP has more than 2,200 branches and some half a million members worldwide.
The NAACP was established in February 1909 in New York City by an interracial group of activists, partially in response to the 1908 Springfield race riot in Illinois.
A white mob burned down 40 homes in Springfield’s black residential district, ransacked local businesses and murdered two African Americans after two Black prisoners, accused of crimes against white people, were quietly transferred from a Springfield jail to a jail in another city.
The NAACP’s founding members included white progressives such as Mary White Ovington, Henry Moskowitz, William English Walling and Oswald Garrison Villard, along with African Americans including W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida Wells-Barnett, Archibald Grimke and Mary Church Terrell.
Early members of the organisation had been involved in the Niagara Movement, a civil rights group led by Du Bois, a sociologist and writer.
In its charter, the NAACP promised to champion equal rights and eliminate racial prejudice, and to “advance the interest of colored citizens” in regard to voting rights, legal justice and educational and employment opportunities.
A white lawyer, Moorfield Storey, became the NAACP’s first president. Du Bois, the only Black person on the leadership team, served as director of publications and research. In 1910, he started The Crisis, which became the leading publication for Black writers and remains in print today.
The NAACP worked through the judicial system, lobbying and peaceful protests.
For example, in 1915 it successfully overturned an Oklahoma law in the Supreme Court that had allowed illiterate whites to vote if their grandfathers had been eligible to vote in 1866, while illiterate Blacks were not allowed to do the same.
Also in 1915, the NAACP called for a boycott of ‘Birth of a Nation’, a movie that portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in a positive light and perpetrated racist stereotypes of blacks.
In 1917, some 10,000 people in New York City participated in an NAACP silent march to protest lynchings and other violence against Blacks. The march was one of the first mass demonstrations in America against racial violence.
By 1919, the NAACP had some 90,000 members and more than 300 branches.
Civil Rights Era
The NAACP played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. One of its key victories was the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed segregation in public schools.
The NAACP also helped organise the 1963 March on Washington, one of the biggest civil rights rallies in U.S. history, and had a hand in running 1964’s Mississippi Freedom Summer.
During this era, the NAACP successfully lobbied for the passage of landmark legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, barring racial discrimination in voting.
While the group was criticised by some for its strategy of working through the judicial system, its members were also subject to harassment and violence – in 1962, Medgar Evers, the first NAACP field secretary in Mississippi, was assassinated outside his home in Jackson by a white supremacist.
Today, the NAACP is focused on such issues as inequality in jobs, education, health care and the criminal justice system, as well as protecting voting rights. The group also has pushed for the removal of Confederate flags and statues from public property.