In response to the Springfield riot, a group of black and white activists, Jews and gentiles, met in New York City to address the deteriorating status of African Americans. Among them were veterans of the Niagara Movement (a civil rights group), suffragists, social workers, labor reformers, philanthropists, socialists, anti-imperialists, educators, clergymen, and journalists—some with roots in abolitionism. In the abolitionist tradition, they proposed to fight the new color-caste system with a “new abolition movement”—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP pledged “to promote equality of rights and eradicate caste or race prejudice among citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for their children, employment according to their ability, and complete equality before the law.” The NAACP pursued this mission through a variety of tactics including legal action, lobbying, peaceful protest, and publicity.

William English Walling, a NAACP Founder

William English Walling (1877–1936), a prominent socialist and journalist, was descended from wealthy Kentucky slaveholders. He was a founder of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, the Women’s Trade Union League, the Social Democratic League, and the NAACP. In 1908 Walling and his wife, Anna Strunsky, a revolutionary Russian Jew, traveled to Springfield, Illinois, to investigate the race riot. In his article, The Race War in the North, which appeared in the September 3 Independent, Walling declared: “the spirit of the abolitionists, of Lincoln and Lovejoy, must be revived and we must come to treat the negro on a plane of absolute political and social equality,” and he appealed for a “large and powerful body of citizens to come to their aid.” The article aroused the conscience of Mary White Ovington, a New York social worker, who wrote a letter to Walling offering her support.

William English Walling, Chairman of NAACP Executive Committee (1910–1911) [1906]. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # ppmsca-23824

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Journalist Ray Stannard Baker

Ray Stannard Baker (1870–1946) was known as a leading muckraking journalist. From 1899 to1905, he was an associate editor of McClure’s, and from 1906 to1915 he coedited American Magazine. As a muckraker, he reported on social and economic problems from a liberal perspective. After the Atlanta riot, he traveled throughout the South and North conducting interviews for Following the Color Line (1908), a groundbreaking book on race relations. Baker vacillated between the philosophies of Booker T. Washington and the NAACP. He joined the NAACP and attended meetings, but declined committee service. In his notebook he revealed that he “instinctively” agreed with Washington’s “emphasis on duty and service” as a prerequisite for civil rights. Baker won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Woodrow Wilson in 1940. In this letter, NAACP founder William Wallings asks for Baker’s support in convening a national conference on the Negro.

William English Walling to Ray Stannard Baker concerning the National Conference on the Negro, February 6, 1909. Typed letter. Ray Stannard Baker Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00)
Digital ID # na0017

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“Call” for a National Conference to Address Racial Inequality

In January 1909 an interracial group gathered in William English Walling’s New York apartment to discuss proposals for an organization that would advocate the civil and political rights of African Americans. Walling, Mary White Ovington, and Henry Moskowitz were the nucleus of the group. To garner support, the group decided to issue a call for a national conference on the centenary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1909. Written by Oswald Garrison Villard, “the Call” supposed Abraham Lincoln revisiting the country in 1909 to assess the progress of race relations since the Emancipation Proclamation. It ended with an appeal to “all believers in democracy to join in a national conference for the discussion of present evils, the voicing of protests, and the renewal of the struggle for civil and political liberty.” “The Call” was sent to prominent white and black Americans for endorsement.  Among the sixty signers of the call were Jane Addams, John Dewey, W.E.B. Dubois, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Francis J. Grimke, and Ray Stannard Baker.

Committee on the Negro “Call” for a National Conference, February 1909. Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3 Ray Stannard Baker Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00)
Digital ID # na0018p1

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NAACP Founder Mary White Ovington

Mary White Ovington (1865–1951), a social worker and freelance writer, was a principal NAACP founder and officer for almost forty years. Born in Brooklyn, New York, into a wealthy abolitionist family, she became a socialist while a student at Radcliffe College. From 1895 to 1903, she led the Greenpoint Settlement in Brooklyn, New York, which served the underprivileged. Ovington befriended W.E.B. Du Bois in 1904, when she was researching her first book, Half a Man (1911), about black Manhattan. In 1906 she covered the Niagara Movement and the Atlanta riot for the New York Evening Post. Ovington played a crucial role in the NAACP’s evolution and stability. She recruited women into the ranks, mediated disputes, and guided the transition to black leadership. During her tenure she served as secretary (1911–1912), acting secretary, treasurer, and board chairman.

Mary White Ovington, ca. 1910. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (020.00.00)
Digital ID # ppmsca-23826

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Social Worker and Civic Leader Henry Moskowitz

Henry Moskowitz (1879–1936), a Romanian Jewish émigré, attended the University Settlement’s boys’ club as a youth. There he met fellow socialist William English Walling, with whom he traveled to Eastern Europe in 1905 to study social and economic conditions. Moskowitz was active in the Ethical Culture Society as an associate leader, and from 1913 to 1917 he served as chairman of several New York commissions. A close associate of Governor Alfred E. Smith, he coauthored Smith’s biography. Moskowitz’s involvement in the NAACP was indicative of early Jewish support; Lillian Wald, Rabbi Emil G. Hirsh, and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise were also founders. The Spingarn brothers served as officers, and Jacob Schiff, Julius Rosenwald, and Herbert Lehman contributed funds.

Dr. Henry Moskowitz, between 1920 and 1936. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (021.00.00)
Digital ID # ppmsca-23827

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NAACP Leader Oswald Garrison Villard

Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949), publisher of the New York Evening Post and The Nation, was the son of railroad tycoon Henry Villard and grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. He used his fortune to promote liberal causes, including women’s suffrage, anti-imperialism, and Negro uplift. Villard originally supported Booker T. Washington, believing education was the solution to the “Negro problem,” but the Brownsville affair and Atlanta riot convinced him of the need for a more militant strategy. The “Committee for the Advancement of the Negro Race” (1906) he envisioned became the blueprint for the NAACP. Villard funded the NAACP’s budget and provided free office space in the Evening Post building. He resigned as NAACP chairman in 1914 due to irreconcilable differences with W. E. B. Du Bois, but remained a board member until his death in 1949.

Oswald Garrison Villard, between 1910 and 1920. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (022.00.00)
Digital ID # ppmsca-23828

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NAACP Founder Charles Edward Russell

Charles Edward Russell (1860–1941) was a prominent writer and Socialist Party leader. The author of twenty-seven books, he won the Pulitzer Prize for The American Orchestra and Theodore Thomas (1927). Born in Davenport, Iowa, the son of an abolitionist newspaper editor, Russell began his career as a reporter. After twenty years in the field, he won renown as a muckraker and politician. He wrote several exposés, including The Greatest Trust in the World (1905), about the Chicago beef trust. He also campaigned for governor, mayor, and senator in New York but never won. A close friend of William English Walling, Russell was among the original group of people Walling invited to plan the NAACP. He served as acting chairman of the National Negro Committee (1909) and as a board member.

Charles E. Russell, between 1920 and 1936. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00)
Digital ID # ppmsca-23825

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NAACP leader Bishop Alexander Walters

Alexander Walters (1858–1917), emerged from slavery to become a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a civil rights leader. In 1898 Walters and T. Thomas Fortune cofounded the Afro-American Council (1898–1908), the largest national civil rights organization at the time. As president, Walters opposed Plessy v. Ferguson, lynching, and Booker T. Washington’s accommodationism. A conflict with Fortune, a Washington ally, led to his removal in 1902. He was later reelected and served from1905 until1907. In 1908, he joined the Niagara Movement. Walters was among the seven African American signers of the “Call” for a national conference to address racial inequality. The others were William Bulkley, a school principal, W. E .B. Du Bois, Reverend Francis Grimke, Mary Church Terrell, Reverend J. Milton Waldron, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. In addition, Walters served as NAACP vice president (1911) and was a board member.

Bishop Alexander Walters, between 1930 and 1960. Print engraving. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (023.00.00)
Digital ID # ppmsca-23829

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Social Worker Florence Kelley

Florence Kelley (1859–1932), a social worker and attorney, was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of Congressman William D. Kelley, an abolitionist and founder of the Republican Party. In 1891 Kelley joined Hull House, where she befriended Jane Addams and William English Walling. In 1893 Governor John Altgeld appointed her Illinois’s first chief factory inspector. She moved to New York to become General Secretary (1899–1932) of the National Consumers’ League. Kelley fought for the rights of working women and children. She campaigned for an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, and federal aid for mothers and infants.  With Lillian Wald, she helped create the U.S. Children’s Bureau (1912). Walling enlisted her help to create the NAACP. She served as a longtime member of the board and Legal Committee.

Florence Kelley. Underwood & Underwood, ca. 1925. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (23.01.00)
[Digital ID # cph.3b20591]

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Pioneer Nurse Lillian Wald

Lillian Wald (1867–1940), a pioneer nurse, was born into a wealthy German-Jewish family. In 1895 Wald and Mary Brewster, a fellow graduate of the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses, opened the Henry Street Settlement on the city’s Lower East Side with the support of banker Jacob Schiff. The settlement provided a visiting nurses service and social services to that poor immigrant quarter. From this base, Wald founded public health nursing in the U.S. She introduced public school nurses and the Red Cross Town and Country Nursing Service. Wald also cofounded Lincoln House to extend health care to black New Yorkers and joined her Henry Street colleagues Florence Kelley and Henry Moskowitz in founding the NAACP.

Photograph of Lillian Wald. Harris & Ewing, between 1905 and 1945. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (023.00.00)
[Digital ID # hec.19537]

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Platform of the National Negro Committee, 1909

After “the Call” went out, the National Negro Conference was held at Charity Organization Hall in New York City on May 31 and June 1, 1909. An interracial assembly of 300 men and women attended sessions designed to scientifically refute the popular belief in Negro inferiority. The speakers included sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, anthropologist Livingston Farrand, economist Edwin Seligman, and neurologist Burt G. Wilder. The National Negro Committee, or Committee of Forty, was formed to plan a permanent organization.  At the second annual meeting on May 12, 1910, the Committee adopted the formal name of the organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Du Bois recommended “Colored” instead of “Negro” to signify the Association’s interest in advancing the rights of all dark-skinned people. The goals of the NAACP were the abolition of segregation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and racial violence, particularly lynching.

NAACP. Platform of the National Negro Committee, 1909. Printed document. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (024.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0024

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Moorfield Storey

Moorfield Storey (1845–1929), a prominent constitutional lawyer and past president of the American Bar Association, became the NAACP’s first president (1910–1929). He was descended from the New England Puritans and Harvard trained. A steadfast champion of the oppressed, he also served as secretary to abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner; led the Anti-Imperialist League, which opposed U.S. ownership of the Philippines; and defended the rights of Native Americans and immigrants. Storey prosecuted the NAACP’s early Supreme Court victories. He was later aided by Louis Marshall (1856-1929), another renowned constitutional lawyer and Jewish communal leader.

Moorfield Storey, between 1909 and 1929. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (027.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.23830]

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First Issue of The Crisis

In November 1910 the NAACP launched The Crisis, an official organ under the editorship of W.E.B. Du Bois. The journal’s title was inspired by James Lowell’s poem “The Present Crisis.” Through The Crisis Du Bois reported the NAACP’s activities and rallied support, while articulating his views on race and politics. For the largely black readership he personified the NAACP. The Crisis also served as an open forum for discourse on race relations and black life and culture. The monthly issues included articles on current events, editorial commentary, short stories and poems, art work, and reports on the achievements of people of color worldwide.

The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, November 1910. New York: NAACP, 1910. Journal. General Collections, Library of Congress (026.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0026]

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The Pink Franklin Case

The NAACP undertook its first major legal case in 1910 by defending Pink Franklin, a black South Carolina sharecropper accused of murder. When Franklin left his employer after receiving an advance on his wages, a warrant was sworn out for his arrest under an invalid state law. Armed policemen arrived at Frankiln’s cabin before dawn to serve the warrant without stating their purpose and a gun battle ensued, killing one officer.  Franklin was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. The NAACP appealed to South Carolina Governor Martin F. Ansel, and Frankiln’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. Eventually, he was set free in 1919.

Pink Franklin to NAACP Secretary Frances Blascoer concerning his defense, December 5, 1910. Autograph letter. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (031.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0031p1

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Frances Blascoer’s Strategy for Franklin’s Appeal

Frances Blascoer, a settlement worker, served as the NAACP’s first secretary from February 1910 to March 1911. Blascoer traveled to South Carolina to meet with Pink Franklin’s black attorneys, John Adams and Jacob Moorer, and South Carolina’s governor Martin Ansel. She persuaded Adams and Moorer to withdraw so that Franklin could assign power of attorney to the NAACP. She then hired two influential white attorneys, Claude E. Sawyer and B.A. Hagood, to represent Franklin before the Supreme Court and in procuring a pardon. Blascoer resigned as secretary after a dispute with W.E.B. Du Bois over finances for The Crisis, the NAACP monthly magazine that Du Bois edited.

NAACP Secretary Frances Blascoer to Pink Franklin concerning the appeal of his case, December 24, 1910. Typed letter. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (032.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0032

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NAACP Leader Joel Spingarn

The favorable publicity generated by the Pink Franklin case, in which the NAACP defended a black sharecropper accused of murder, attracted new supporters to the NAACP. Among them was the independently wealthy Joel Spingarn (1875-1939), chairman of Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Spingarn, the eldest son of an Austrian Jewish tobacco merchant, had a profound sense of social responsibility and abhorred racial violence. Intent on reform, he made an unsuccessful bid for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1908 and served as a delegate at the national conventions of the Progressive Party in 1912 and 1916. Spingarn resigned his professorship in 1911 to devote his energy and talents to the NAACP.  He was successively elected as Executive Committee member, chairman of the board, treasurer, and finally president between 1930 and 1939.  Joel Spingarn was the originator of the Spingarn Medal, awarded annually by the NAACP since 1915 for the highest achievement by an African American.

Joel E. Spingarn. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (030.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # ppmsca-05524

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Constitution and By-Laws of the NAACP

In 1911 Albert E. Pillsbury, former Massachusetts attorney general and nephew of abolitionist Parker Pillsbury, drafted the NAACP’s constitution and by-laws. A second constitution and new by-laws were drafted in 1912 and approved in 1914. The by-laws established a board of directors to govern the organization, with each director serving three-year terms. The board elected officers: a chairman, president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer; and created all standing and special committees, departments, bureaus, branches, and other units. It held an annual meeting in January and met monthly to consider reports from committees. The NAACP constitution states that “the Annual Convention shall have the power to establish polices and programs.  All actions on the question of policy and program shall be binding on the board, officers, branches, and other units of the Association.”

Constitution and By-Laws of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1911. Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (025.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0025.01p1

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NAACP Leader Arthur Spingarn

 In January 1911 the NAACP organized its first branch in Harlem, New York with the help of Joel Spingarn, who persuaded his brother, Arthur (1878–1971) and Charles H. Studin, Arthur’s law partner, to join him.  The branch established a vigilance committee, which became the National Legal Committee, to deal “with injustice in the courts as it affects the Negro.”  Arthur worked pro bono because the NAACP could not afford to hire attorneys on a regular basis and was often able to convince other prominent attorneys to volunteer their services.  Arthur served as the chairman of the National Legal Committee until 1939 and as NAACP president from 1939 to 1966. The members of the Legal Committee also included Clarence Darrow, Felix Frankfurter, and Charles Houston.

Arthur Spingarn. Gelatin silver print. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (029.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # ppmsca-23832

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Jane Addams’ Appeal

In 1913 the NAACP persuaded New York State to sponsor a Negro Exposition in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote and directed a historical pageant, “The Star of Ethiopia,” which nearly 30,000 people attended.  The NAACP board approved the reprinting of several articles as pamphlets to generate additional publicity and revenue.  Jane Addams (1860–1935), the founder of Chicago’s Hull House settlement, offered this fervent appeal.  Her father, John Addams, a Quaker businessman, had befriended Abraham Lincoln when both served in the Illinois State Legislature.

Jane Addams. Has the Emancipation Act Been Nullified by National Indifference, NAACP, 1913. Pamphlet. Page 2 NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (033.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0033p1]

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The Spingarn Medal

In 1913 Joel Spingarn embarked on the “New Abolition” tours to build the NAACP’s membership. Traveling across the U.S., he was struck by the negative stereotyping of blacks in newspapers. To counteract this misperception, he established the Spingarn Medal, a gold medal to be awarded annually for “the highest achievement by an American Negro.” The medal’s purpose was twofold—first, to inform the nation of the significant contributions of its black citizens; and second, to foster race pride and stimulate the ambition of black youth. The first Spingarn Medal was awarded to Dr. Ernest Just in 1915 for his research in biology.

The Spingarn Medal, February 25, 1913. Typescript. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (034.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0034p1]

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A Letter to President Woodrow Wilson

In 1913 President Woodrow Wilson introduced segregation into federal government agencies. Black employees were separated from other workers in offices, restrooms, and cafeterias.  Some were also downgraded; others discharged on fictitious grounds. Oswald Garrison Villard met privately with President Wilson to recommend the appointment of a National Race Commission to counter the new discriminatory policies. When President Wilson refused, the NAACP released this open letter of protest to the press.  Segregation in the federal government persisted through the next three Republican administrations.

A Letter to President Woodrow Wilson on Federal Race Discrimination, August 15, 1913. Printed document, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Page 2 NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID# # na0036p1]

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The Birth of a Nation Poster

In February 1915, director D. W. Griffith premiered “The Birth of a Nation” in Los Angeles.  Based on Thomas Dixon’s novel, The Clansman, the film presented Reconstruction from the viewpoint of the Confederacy, glorifying the Ku Klux Klan and vilifying blacks as brutes, buffoons, and rapists. Griffith combined cinematic innovations with mass appeal to produce the film industry’s first extravaganza. The NAACP launched a nationwide campaign to expose the film’s distorted history and halt its showing. The campaign did not stop whites from seeing the film in record numbers, but in some cities the most offensive scenes were cut and in others the entire film was banned.

D.W. Griffith’s Immortal Masterpiece ‘The Birth of a Nation’ First Time in Sound!” December 1936. Poster. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (038.00.00)
[Digital ID # cph.3g02427]

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Protest of Birth of a Nation Film

The NAACP Board of Directors considered “ The Birth of a Nation” subversive in its treatment of the black race. The Board appealed to censorship boards and government officials to suppress the film.  It also distributed a pamphlet prepared by Mary White Ovington to inform the public of the film’s inaccuracies.  In localities where authorities refused to act against the film, the NAACP picketed the theaters that showed it.  Lillian Wald, in this letter to NAACP Secretary May Childs Nerney (1912–1916), suggests a dignified procession to City Hall to protest the film’s screening in New York. The film opened in New York at the Liberty Theater on March 3.

Lillian Wald to May Childs Nerney concerning the protest of D.W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation,” March 24, 1915. Typed letter. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (037.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0037]

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NAACP Victory in Guinn v. United States

Many southern and border states devised legal barriers to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment and prohibit black voting.  These barriers included poll taxes, literacy tests, “grandfather clauses,” and the “white primary.”  In 1910 Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment, which held that only residents whose grandfathers had voted in 1865 could vote, thus disqualifying the descendants of slaves. The NAACP persuaded the U.S. attorney general to challenge the constitutionality of the “grandfather clause,” encouraged by a Maryland Circuit Court decision in 1913. Oklahoma appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Moorfield Storey was granted permission to argue the case on behalf of the NAACP.  In June 1915, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Guinn v. United States that the “grandfather clause” was in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Board minutes concerning Guinn v. United States, June 3, 1913. Typescript. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (035.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0035

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A Possible Name Change for NAACP

The NAACP hired Royal Nash, a writer who had formerly led the NAACP Northern California branch, as secretary (1916–1917) to succeed May Childs Nerney. Nash thought the name of the NAACP too cumbersome to use.  In this memorandum he suggests other names for the NAACP in the “spirit of the New Abolitionists,” such as “The Garrison Association,” “The Wendell Phillips Association,” and “The Lincoln Association.”  No action was taken after Nash left the NAACP in 1917 to join the army.

NAACP Secretary Royal Nash to Directors and Branch Officers about changing the name of the NAACP, February 1, 1916.  Memorandum. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (038.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0038_01]

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The Amenia Conference Pamphlet

In 1916, one year after the death of Booker T. Washington, the NAACP issued a call for a conference of black leaders to unite Washington’s supporters and NAACP activists    behind a common program. W.E.B. Du Bois and Joel Spingarn held the conference August 24-26, at Troutbeck, Spingarn’s estate near Amenia, New York. The roughly fifty conferees adopted a “Unity Platform” that affirmed all forms of education for blacks and political freedom. They also pledged to work together to improve race relations and forget old “hurts and enmities.” The Anemia Conference marked the NAACP’s ascent as the dominant force in the civil rights movement.

W.E.B. Du Bois. The Amenia Conference: An Historical Negro Gathering. The Troutbeck Press, 1925. Pamphlet. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7 - Page 8 - Page 9 - Page 10. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (040.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0040p1]

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The Amenia Conference, 1916

This photograph shows some of the men and women who attended the Amenia Conference in 1916. Included are NAACP activists Addie Hunton, Mary Church Terrell, Mary Talbert (Second row, left to right: 1st, 3rd, and 4th), Arthur Spingarn, William Pickens, and Charles W. Chesnutt (First row, left to right: 1st, 2nd, and 4th). Among the other conferees were Booker T. Washington allies Henry Hunt, Emmet J. Scott, Fred Moore, J. Rosamond Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson; Niagarites Charles E. Bentley, L.M. Hershaw, and Mason Hawkins; and educators Kelly Miller and Lucy Laney (Second row, left to right: 5th and 7th).

The Amenia Conference, 1916. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (039.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3a50780]

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Buchanan v. Warley

The NAACP sought out cases that infringed on the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in order to set legal precedents and ultimately secure the constitutional rights of African Americans. An early victory was Buchanan v. Warley, a case involving residential segregation in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville and other cities passed ordinances to prevent people of color from residing in white neighborhoods. Moorfield Storey, the NAACP’s first president and a constitutional attorney, argued the case before the Supreme Court in April 1917. The Court reversed the decision of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, ruling that the Louisville ordinance violated the Fourteenth Amendment. As a result of the ruling, whites resorted to private restrictive covenants, in which property owners agreed to sell or rent to whites only.

In the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1916 [no. 231], Charles H. Buchanan v. William Warley. Pamphlet. Page 2 - Page 3. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (041.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0041p1

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The Silent Protest of 1917

On July 1, 1917, two white policemen were killed in East St. Louis, Illinois, in an  altercation caused when marauders attacked black homes. The incident sparked a race riot on July 2, which ended with forty-eight killed, hundreds injured, and thousands of blacks fleeing the city when their homes were burned. The police and state militia did little to prevent the carnage. On July 28, the NAACP protested with a silent march of 10,000 black men, women, and children down New York’s Fifth Avenue. The participants marched behind a row of drummers carrying banners calling for justice and equal rights. The only sound was the beat of muffled drums.

Silent protest parade in New York City against the East St. Louis riots, 1917. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (042.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # cph-3a34294

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John R. Shillady

In 1918 the NAACP hired John Shillady, a social agency administrator, as Secretary (1918–1920). He immediately directed a successful membership drive, and then focused on the anti-lynching campaign. Texas, with 31 branches, was the NAACP’s stronghold in the South. Fearing black reprisals after the Longview race riot of 1919, the Texas attorney general subpoenaed the Austin branch’s records in a move designed to shut down NAACP branches statewide. When Shillady traveled to Austin to meet with state officials he was severely beaten by a mob led by a county judge and constable. The assault left the once robust, cheery Irishman infirm and traumatized. Shillady resigned in 1920 and died shortly thereafter.

John R. Shillady, between 1910 and 1920. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.23831]

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1919 Pan-African Congress

On December 1, W.E. B. Du Bois sailed for France on a threefold mission: to report on the Paris Peace Conference for The Crisis; to collect material for a history of the black soldier in World War I; and to organize a Pan-African Congress. Tuskegee principal Robert Moton, his secretary Nathan Hunt, and reporter Lester Walton, were also aboard the press ship Orizaba, sent by the U.S. Congress to investigate the treatment of black troops.  The history was never published. The Pan-African Congress convened in Paris February 19-21, 1919.  Its purpose was to unite black leaders worldwide to secure the internationalization of former German colonies in Africa. The Congress adopted resolutions affirming the right of Africans to participate in their own government and charging the League of Nations to protect this right. These resolutions were presented at the Peace Conference. 

W.E. B. Du Bois to NAACP Board of Directors concerning the 1919 Pan-African Congress and a book on the black soldier in World War I, December 24, 1918. Memorandum. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0043p1]

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W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1919 Trip to France

In December 1918 W. E. B. Du Bois sent a memorandum to the NAACP’s Chairman and Acting Chairman detailing the agenda for his trip to France, which was reprinted in these minutes. In the memorandum he proposes a scheme for a three-volume History of the Black Man in the Revolution of 1914–1918. He also discusses his plans for the Pan African Congress. Fifty-seven delegates from 15 countries attended the Congress. The NAACP also sponsored Pan-African Congresses in 1921, 1923, and 1927.

NAACP Board of Director Minutes concerning W.E.B. Du Bois’s trip to France, February 10, 1919. Typescript. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (043.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0043_01]

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Report on Lynching in the United States

In 1916 the NAACP established an Anti-Lynching Committee to develop legislative and public awareness campaigns.  In 1918 NAACP Secretary John Shillady directed the production of Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889–1918. This report recorded that 3,224 people were lynched during that period. Of these, 702 were white and 2,522 black.  Among the justifications given for lynching were petty offenses such as, “using offensive language, refusal to give up land, illicit distilling.” The Committee also compiled lynching statistics in 1921. It took out full-page advertisements on November 22 and 23, 1922 in the New York Times, Atlanta Constitution, and other leading newspapers entitled “The Shame of America,” with the subheading “3,436 People Lynched 1889 to 1922.”

Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889–1918. New York: NAACP, April 1919. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. NAACP Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (045.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0045p1

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The “Red Summer”

James Weldon Johnson coined the phrase “Red Summer” to describe the wave of racial violence that exploded across the U.S. during the summer and early fall of 1919. There were race riots in twenty-five cities including Chicago, Omaha, Washington, D.C., and Longview, Texas. Johnson investigated the five-day Washington riot, which erupted on July 19, when white servicemen began assaulting black pedestrians in response to sensationalized newspaper reports of black men attacking white women. This is the affidavit of James E. Scott, who was assaulted on a streetcar.

Statement of James E. Scott concerning his assault by rioters in Washington, D.C. July 19, 1919. Typed document. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (044.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0044]

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