Marking the NAACP's Centennial Convention
Exploring the accomplishments of, and challenges for the NAACP as it celebrates its 100-year anniversary.
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The NAACP gathered in New York for a six-day convention celebrating its 100-year anniversary. It was an enormous affair with giants such as Cornel West, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and President Obama paying tribute to the accomplishments of the civil rights organization.
The civil rights group was formed by a multi-racial coalition in 1909, sparked in 1908 by a deadly race riot in Springfield Illinois. Nearly a century later, Barack Obama launched his presidential campaign not far from where the riot took place. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University looks at the challenges ahead and its past accomplishments.
"It is still an organization that has not re-found its whole identity, that is in many ways, so important because of its history, rather than what it is accomplishing in this moment."
When asked which things the NAACP accomplished are most important, Harris-Lacewell says, "At the turn of the 20th century, their work around the anti-lynching efforts. Efforts which, in many ways, marked what the NAACP's strategies would be because it led both a media-based campaign, a campaign to discuss with the U.S. President, legislative efforts, and efforts relative to the Supreme Court, all around anti-lynching. Although they never passed the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, those efforts changed what happens in courtrooms and protects the rights of all accused against mob trials.
"And then of course, in the middle of the century, the efforts of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, around the de-segregation of schools, most famously, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision."
The NAACP's identity issues may stem from its challenges in passing the torch to a whole new group of leaders. That has been a difficulty in the last ten years.
"The NAACP is part of a class of organizations that is in crisis at this 21st-century moment of politics. What does it mean to think about outside agitation, to think about advocacy, in a sort of new political system that is more closed in many ways. On the one hand, it is more open -- obviously, women have the franchise, African-Americans have the franchise, Latinos have the franchise, we have far more people with the ability to participate.
"But, on the other hand, we have an enormous impact of monied interests in the political system that makes it harder for us to imagine exactly how mass-base advocacy organizations can do their work.
"So, the NAACP is in crisis in the way that many other organizations are. It is simply that that legacy, that 100-year legacy of how much they have accomplished makes us want to see them still on that up-curve of doing more and more."
Harris-Lacewell offers this when asked to peer 100 years into the future of the NAACP: "Every civil rights organization ultimately wants to die. Because the goal is to have full equality. And if you have full equality then your institutional purpose is no longer important."
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