The NAACP struggled through the 1970s and 1980s, a period marked by change and many challenges. NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins ended his long tenure with the association (1931–1977) and Margaret Bush Wilson became the first black woman to chair the NAACP Board of Directors. The NAACP built on the legal and legislative victories of the civil rights era by supporting race-conscious initiatives to redress the legacy of racial discrimination. The NAACP backed busing to achieve school desegregation and affirmative action programs with the government and private sector.  But by the mid-1970s, the NAACP faced the threat of bankruptcy as the result of two lawsuits and criticism about its relevancy from proponents of the Black Power Movement.  In the 1980s, the Reagan administration reduced the budget of the Equal Opportunity Commission, tried to disband the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, reduced the number of civil rights attorneys in the Justice Department, and urged the Supreme Court to end affirmative action. The confluence of challenges in the 1970s and 1980s spurred the NAACP to find new ways of defining its mission to address the issues of African Americans.

At the Ballot Box

The NAACP’s commitment to universal suffrage is epitomized in this poster.  The would-be-voters behind the curtain, depicted only by their footwear, represent men and women from “different walks of life.”  The release of the poster coincided with the NAACP’s campaign to amend the Voting Rights Act in the 1970s.

NAACP. At the Ballot Box, Everybody is Equal, Register and Vote: Join the NAACP, between 1970–1979. Poster. Gary Yanker Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (130.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # ppmsca-19870

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Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971)

In 1965 the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of black families to integrate the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina. The Fourth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the school board. The case was filed again in 1968, after the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. County School Board, reaffirming the Brown mandate. This time federal Judge James McMillian ordered the school district to submit a busing plan. The Supreme Court upheld his use of busing as a method to achieve school desegregation in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971). The NAACP supported Swann with legal action and, as this letter illustrates, was intensely critical of President Nixon’s opposition to busing.

Roy Wilkins to U.S. Attorney General Edward H. Levi concerning Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, December 24, 1975. Typed letter. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (132.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0132p1]

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The Search for Military Justice

Nathaniel R. Jones (b. 1926), a retired federal judge and former executive director of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, served as NAACP General Counsel from 1969 to 1979. In January 1971 Jones headed a three-man team on a tour of U.S. bases in West Germany to investigate the complaints of black servicemen. The trip resulted in the publication of The Search for Military Justice (1971). Many of the report’s recommendations were adopted by the Defense Department as guidelines to improve racial relations in the Armed Services.

Nathaniel R. Jones, Julius Williams, and Melvin W. Bolden, Jr. The Search for Military Justice. New York: NAACP Special Contribution Fund, 1971. Pamphlet. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (131.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0131_01p1]

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The NAACP Prison Program

In 1972 the NAACP chartered its first prison branch at the Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Twenty years later there were 42 branches chartered in 16 states with a membership of more than 3,000. The Prison Program was established to fight discrimination in the nation’s prisons, which disproportionately house high numbers of blacks and other minorities, and reduce the rate of inmate recidivism. NAACP prison branches sponsor educational instruction, job training, incentive awards, fund raising activities, and entertainment.

Leroy Mobley, Director of NAACP Prison Program. NAACP Prison Program. Pamphlet. New York: NAACP, ca. 1980. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7 - Page 8 - Page 9. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0136p1]

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Lawyer Margaret Bush Wilson

Margaret Bush Wilson (1919–2009), was a cum laude graduate of Talladega College and Lincoln University School of Law. She began her career as counsel for the Real Estate Brokers Association, which her father formed to initiate Shelley v. Kraemer, the case that banned restrictive covenants. She practiced law privately from 1947 to 2009, intermittently serving as Missouri’s assistant attorney general, a public administrator, and professor. In 1958 she became president of the NAACP St. Louis Branch, and in 1962 headed the State Conference. Elected to the NAACP Board in 1963, she became the first black woman to chair it in 1975. During her tenure, Wilson tried to reform management and recruit youth. In 1983 she was involved in an internal dispute with Benjamin Hooks that resulted in her ouster.

[Margaret Bush Wilson, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors, with Denton L. Watson, NAACP Director of Public Relations] ca. 1977. Photograph. NAACP Records. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (134.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0134]

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Claiborne Hardware Company v. NAACP (1976)

In 1976 the NAACP faced two lawsuits in Mississippi that threatened to put it out of business. A jury awarded highway patrolman Robert Moody $240,000 in a libel suit. Local NAACP officials had charged Moody with police brutality for allegedly beating a black man outside the town of Utica. Then in August, the Mississippi Chancery Court ruled that white merchants in Port Gibson and Clairborne County were entitled to $1.25 million in damages against the NAACP for a boycott. The NAACP appealed both cases. In 1977 the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the libel judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the boycott judgment in 1982.

NAACP General Counsel Nathaniel R. Jones to Roy Wilkins, Margaret Bush Wilson, and NAACP Board of Directors concerning Claiborne Hardware Company v. NAACP, August 26, 1976. Memorandum. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division (133.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0133p1]

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NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks

Benjamin Hooks (1925–2010) received his law degree from DePaul University, after attending Howard University. He won renown in several fields. In 1965 he became the first black judge to serve in the Tennessee criminal court. An ordained minister, he led two churches and cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. As a businessman he cofounded a bank and owned fried chicken franchises. In 1972 he became the first black commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. He was unanimously elected NAACP Executor Director in 1977.  Hooks initiated the ACT-SO and Fair Share programs; revived NAACP membership; and erased the organization’s debt. Under his leadership the NAACP also took a more aggressive stance on U.S. policies towards Africa.  He retired from the NAACP in 1992.

Benjamin Hooks, NAACP Executive Director. Photograph. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (135.00.00)  Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0135]

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The Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics

Vernon Jarrett, a prominent Chicago journalist, introduced the Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) in 1977 as an “Olympics of the Mind” that would reward academic achievers in the same way athletic achievers are honored. The NAACP developed ACT-SO into a program designed to promote academic and cultural achievement among African American high school students through local and national competitions. There are twenty-six categories of competition in the humanities, sciences, business, the performing arts and the visual arts. The first national ACT-SO competition was held in Portland, Oregon, in 1978. Through ACT-SO, more than 260,000 contestants have received over $1 million in scholarships, books, and computers.

The 7th Annual ACT-SO, June 29–July 3, 1984, The Westin Crown Center Hotel, Kansas City, Missouri. Program booklet. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (142.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0142p1

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The Bakke Case

In 1973 and 1974 Allan Bakke, a white student, was refused entry to the University of California-Davis Medical School. At that time, the school held 16 seats for minority students as an affirmative action policy. Bakke filed a lawsuit alleging reverse discrimination because he had higher test scores than several minority students admitted. In University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978), the Supreme Court upheld the principle of affirmative action, but rejected the use of racial quotas as unconstitutional. The Court ordered Bakke’s admission. The NAACP held a symposium July 20–22 to consider the implications of the Bakke decision. Afterward, the NAACP issued this statement.

NAACP Statement on the Implications of the Bakke Decision for College /University Admissions. Pamphlet. Baltimore: NAACP, [1978]. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (140.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0140p1]

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The 14th Annual NAACP Image Awards

In 1967 the Beverly Hills-Hollywood Branch of the NAACP created annual “Image Awards” to recognize those individuals and groups who present positive images of blacks or improve their opportunity for employment in the motion picture, television, and recording industries. The first Image Awards were presented to the producers of “Hogan’s Heroes,” “I Spy,” “Mission Impossible,” “Star Trek,” and other television shows. Since then the Image Awards program has evolved to include other people of color and the field of literature as a category.

NAACP Beverly Hills-Hollywood Branch. The 14th Annual NAACP Image Awards: “A Dual Society is an Unequal Society,” December 6, 1981, Hollywood Palladium. Program. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (137.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0137]

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Operation Fair Share Program

In 1981 the NAACP initiated the Operation Fair Share Program in an effort to increase employment and strengthen minority entrepreneurship. Administered by the NAACP Development Department, the goal was to build a working relationship with private sector firms that would encourage more job opportunities and other economic benefits for blacks. Executive Director Benjamin Hooks began implementing Operation Fair Share by signing a joint agreement with Edison Electric Institute and American Gas Association in 1982. The seventy Fair Share Signatory Companies also included the Georgia Power Company, General Motors, McDonald’s Corporation, United Airlines, KMart Corporation, and Walt Disney Productions.

Statement by NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks upon the signing of a fair share agreement with the presidents of Edison Electric Institute and American Gas Association, October 7, 1982. Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (139.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0139p1

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1983 National NAACP Health Fair

In 1924 the NAACP began baby contests designed to stimulate interest in the health and proper care of infants. The NAACP also sought to end discrimination at the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital (1923), Harlem Hospital (1933), and other facilities. These early initiatives led to the creation of the NAACP Health Department. In 1983 the NAACP received a $30,000 grant from the Chevron Corporation to sponsor a national Minority Health Fair Project. The other participating organizations included La Raza, the Japanese American Council, and American Indian Council. The primary goal of the project was to increase awareness among minorities about the requirements for maintaining health and to create better understanding between minority communities and local health care agencies. The NAACP program was conducted in twenty-five cities under the sponsorship of local branches.

National NAACP Health Fair: Get Healthy in ’83 with the NAACP, 1983. Flyer. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (141.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0141

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South Africa NAACP

The NAACP was historically tied to South Africa in 1912, with the founding of the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC based its charter on the NAACP’s charter. W.E.B. Du Bois and Roy Wilkins sustained the NAACP’s interest in South African apartheid through the 1970s. In 1985 Benjamin Hooks designated October 5 as a National Day of Mourning to publicize the killing of over 700 people in South Africa in less than 13 months. He led 10,000 marchers down New York’s Fifth Avenue to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for an ecumenical prayer service. More than four hundred NAACP branches held concurrent activities. This pamphlet recounts the NAACP’s efforts to bring racial justice to South Africa.

South Africa NAACP Historical Involvement 1911–1985. Pamphlet. Baltimore: NAACP [1985]. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (143.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0143p1]

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Memo for the 1989 Silent March on Washington

On August 26, 1989, the NAACP sponsored a symbolic silent march in Washington, D.C., to protest recent adverse Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and minorities set-asides. The march was modeled on the historic 1917 New York City silent march protesting the East St. Louis Riot. Accordingly, the more than 100,000 participants dressed in black and white, marched behind a row of drummers from a rally on the National Mall to the U.S. Capitol. The March was endorsed by 300 civic, labor, religious, and civil rights organizations, including ASFCME, B’nai B’rith, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Operation PUSH, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks to all NAACP Units and Supporters of the August 26, 1989 Silent March on Washington re: the Silent March on Washington, July 25, 1989. Washington, D.C. Memorandum. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (144.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0144bp1

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Flyer for the 1989 Silent March on Washington

The NAACP used a detail from a panoramic photograph of the 1917 silent march in New York City to illustrate the flyer for the 1989 symbolic silent march in Washington, D.C. protesting recent Supreme Court decisions.  The detail shows W.E.B. Dubois (with walking stick) and James Weldon Johnson (to his left) marching with the parade’s marshals behind the row of drummers.

Flyer for the NAACP’s Symbolic Silent March Protesting the Recent Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court on Affirmative Action and Minority Set-asides, Saturday, August 26, 1989, Washington, D.C. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (144.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0144a

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