By PATRICIA SULLIVAN
Patricia Sullivan’s new book, “Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement,” is the first major history of the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization. Sullivan conducted much of her research in the NAACP Records housed at the Library of Congress, a process she discusses below.
The men and women who founded and built the NAACP saved nearly everything, establishing arguably the most important documentary record on civil-rights struggles in America. That record comprises the largest archival collection in the Library of Congress.
More than a decade ago, I immersed myself in this ocean of papers from which the framework for “Lift Every Voice” gradually surfaced. Not surprisingly, this book became more than the history of an organization.
Beyond the steady run of administrative, legislative and legal files in the Library’s wonderfully accessible collection, the NAACP papers include field reports by organizers and civil-rights attorneys; branch records from communities across the country; and thousands and thousands of letters. These rich, first-person accounts and observations, spanning decades, expose the web of racist practices that structured American life, North and South—often enforced by violence—and reveal what it took to imagine and fight to create a society true to the nation’s founding principles and constitutional guarantees.
Patricia Sullivan is associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina.