On the NAACP’s 100th birthday, a civil-rights expert offers a celebratory history of perhaps the most successful advocacy group ever.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People set out to agitate against a segregated society that had done little since emancipation to advance the civil rights of African-Americans. Although open to all at its inception, the primarily black organization raised its early profile by chronicling patterns of racial discrimination with its magazine, The Crisis, an anti-lynching campaign and a nationwide call to protest the racist movie, The Birth of a Nation. By the 1920s, the NAACP’s 100,000 members were waging a multifront battle on behalf of racial justice. Sullivan (History/Univ. of South Carolina; Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr, Letters From the Civil Rights Years, 2003, etc.) begins with the organization’s pre–World War I founding and follows its various transformations up to the historic Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The author pinpoints the NAACP’s place in the civil-rights universe—too integrationist for the Garveyites, too timid for the communists, too radical for most everyone else. She also spotlights important cases and issues—racial terror, voting rights, criminal justice, discrimination in the military, employment, housing and education—that aroused the organization’s members, and focuses on the NAACP’s growth, achievements and synergistic composition. Locals organized in membership branches and were coordinated by field workers and attorneys, all of whom were informed by an agenda articulated at annual meetings of the national and statewide organizations. Although Sullivan touches on the group’s internecine squabbling and various rivalries—W.E.B. Du Bois had an especially tumultuous relationship with the association—Sullivan’s tone is largely uncritical This is understandable perhaps when the list of major players—including Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Charles Huston, William Hastie, Thurgood Marshall, Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks—reads like a civil-rights Hall of Fame.
An overdue tribute to the organization most responsible for dismantling American apartheid.