NAACP Ends First Century Stronger
Denise Rolark-Barnes | 7/15/2009, 10:39 p.m.
Officials are More Determined to Battle Injustice
The NAACP has a long and distinguished history layered with countless achievements and victories in the fight for civil and human rights for African Americans. Yet, as it brings to a close the celebration of its 100th anniversary in New York City on Thu., July 16, following an address by President Barack Obama, NAACP leaders and members find themselves continuing to recount the reasons why the organization should continue to exist.
The NAACP is the nation€s oldest civil rights organization and the largest. Today, it boasts more than 2,200 chapters and branches in the U.S. and abroad, including Germany and Japan, with more than half a million members. Its largest growth in membership has been seen among high school and college students, with more than 200 chapters on U.S. college campuses, and among the incarcerated who have established chapters in several U.S. prisons.
Centuries of racial abuse, and the denial of equal protection under the law and voting rights, led to the founding of the organization in New York City on Feb. 12, 1909. Grassroots activism, accompanied by boardroom dialogue and courtroom action by the NAACP, led to the passage of such significant human rights laws that include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But this week, with speakers that included the nation€s first Black President and the first Black U.S. Attorney General, delegates attending the six-day convention, called a €homecoming,€ returned to the city of the NAACP€s birth to reclaim, refocused and recommited to a political, social and economic agenda that still needs to be forged.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, at age 36, is the NAACP€s youngest president and CEO. His leadership role in the organization is included among such notables as author, sociologist, educator and NAACP co-founder William E.B Dubois; civil rights activist and Savannah, Ga. lawyer Earl Shinhoster; and former NAACP presidents and CEOs including civil rights lawyer and former chair of the Federal Communications Commission Rev. Benjamin Hooks; former Maryland congressman Kweisi Mfume; and former Verizon executive Bruce Gordon.
Hooks, 84, said, €It is hard to imagine what the nation would be like without the NAACP.€
On Mon., July 13, he demonstrated that he is still the fire and brimstone preacher who headed the NAACP from 1977 to 1992. He now uses a wheelchair, but he stood tall at the podium and delivered a rousing speech that proved to be the shot in the arm the 2,000 delegates needed to kick-off Monday€s plenary session.
€We are soldiers in the Army,€ Hooks said. €Not soldiers of war, bloodshed, [and] violence; but soldiers of peace and justice; soldiers of legal battles and diverse legislation; soldiers of nonviolence, but nevertheless, soldiers. And, we are committed to our cause.€
In a room filled with more delegates over the age of 35 than under, they applauded Hooks when he reminded Jealous that there are still injustices that need to be addressed.
€We€re going to be with you, Brother Jealous,€ Hooks said. €We are going to be with you all the way.€
Jealous, a former community organizer, newspaper editor and Rhodes Scholar, is the 17th president of the NAACP. He is planning a new agenda for the organization that includes broadening partnerships, expanding community organizing; investing in research, improving communications, utilizing technology and engaging young people to get involved in the movement.
Jealous was officially introduced to the delegates by 14-year-old DeJuan Davis, a scholar and a third generation member of the NAACP. Davis is also the nephew of Georgia death row inmate, Troy Davis, who was convicted in 1991 of the murder of an off-duty police officer outside of a Burger King in Savannah, Ga. Under Jealous€ leadership, the NAACP has joined in calling for Davis€ conviction to be overturned and for a hearing on his appeal that offers evidence that witnesses were coerced by police to assert Davis was the perpetrator. In June, the Supreme Court agreed to review the request.
€We will save Troy Davis€ life before this year is over,€ Jealous said, as he reiterated the organizations continued fight against the death penalty in states across the country.
Jealous declared that the NAACP is winning. He noted the organization€s efforts aimed at outlawing racial profiling, €eviscerating€ the controversial New York Rockefeller drug law, which imposed harsh mandatory sentences for drug possession, getting a €Confederate Swastika€ removed from the South Carolina state capital, which also led to the Atlantic Coast Conference decision to move three major baseball tournaments out of the state, and changing a law in Maine to allow women to wear headscarves in prison.
€We are a very Black organization,€ Jealous said, €but we ain€t just a Black organization. We are a human rights organization and a civil rights organization, and we will continue to fight for the rights of all people of this country.€
Among the notables who participated in the weeklong celebrations were: New York Governor David Patterson, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill), National Urban League President Marc Morial, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, a host of African dignitaries and President Obama.
Obama presented the Spingarn Medal of Honor to Julian Bond, who has served as NAACP board chair since 1999. Bond is a co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), former member of the Georgia State House of Representatives and he was a commentator on €America€s Black Forum,€ a PBS television program. He also narrated the award-winning documentaries, €A Time for Justice€ and €Eyes of the Prize.€
Obama is the first U.S. president to address the Freedom Fund dinner and according to one convention delegate, €It took seven years for President George Bush to come speak to us; it only took President Obama seven months.€