HOUSTON- As African-Americans face evolving issues that are reshaping our community and futures, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) contends it is still relevant, evolving and up to the task to take on the modern struggles.
But in an era when activists quickly organize and mobilize mass demonstrations using social media, the NAACP finds itself struggling to remain on the cutting edge of the social justice movement.
Taking a first steps indicating change, the group has changed leadership at the top of its ranks.
The NAACP,, named vice chairman of the board of directors Derrick Johnson as interim president and CEO.
Johnson, new interim president and CEO of the NAACP, wasted no time stating his plans and desires for the organization.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we won’t waste any time getting to it,” he said. “We are facing unprecedented threats to our democracy and we will not be sidelined while our rights are being eroded every day. We remain steadfast and immovable, and stand ready on the front lines of the fight for justice.”
Johnson had formerly served as vice chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors as well as State President for the Mississippi State Conference NAACP.
“I could not think of a better, more battle-tested or more qualified individual to guide the NAACP through this transition period,” said Leon Russell, Board Chairman of the NAACP. “Derrick’s longtime service with the Association will allow him to take decisive action to deal with daily challenges…”
Johnson, Russell and other leaders are going on the road nationwide on a listening tour that will allow opportunities to talk to its local members and figure out what the future of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization should be, he said.
For Johnson and the groups other 500,000 members in 2,200 local chapters must seek ways to figure out how best to support civil rights workers on the ground in communities that are working on issues like police brutality, the upcoming Census, redistricting and voter suppression, according to Leon Russell, NAACP National Board Chairman.
Other issues affecting community across the nation needing constant attention include policy changes on health care, criminal justice reform, educational funding and voting rights
The group is struggling to figure our how to better respond to the new realities confronting African-Americans without abandoning the principles that made it one of the nation’s leading forces for social change.
According to Johnson and Russell, the groups wants a balanced approach as it remembers its history and plans for its future.
The base mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.
In Houston, the issues of reforming bails and bonding system, public education, police relations, brutality, immigration and what to do about voting and redistricting are at the forefront of fight in a diverse and growing city.
“The modern challenge and question is how do we achieve our goals and objectives and get there collectively,” said Dr. James M. Douglas, president of NAACP Houston Branch. “With many of us spread out and living in many places, there is little cohesion or common ground among us – that is one of the main things we will have to address.”
Black communities in Houston are no longer concentrated in one area. It is a conglomeration of African-American communities covering a myriad of neighborhoods and tens of thousands of Black people living across the Houston Metro area including, Houston wards, Cypress-Fairbanks, Katy, Kingwood, The Woodlands, Sugarland, Missouri City, Fort Bend and other areas.
Douglas said the residential spread has created a whole new set of issues on top of what already exists on the table.
“We are still in the fight and area a loud and active voice from Austin to Washington D.C.,” He said. “However, the way things are in communities, we keep fighting, but it is more complex to bring back the cohesion we once had when we all lived in the same close communities.”
Founded Feb. 12. 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, campaigning for equal opportunity and conducting voter mobilization.
The NAACP was formed partly in response to the continuing horrific practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, the capital of Illinois and resting place of President Abraham Lincoln.
Appalled at the violence that was committed against blacks, a group of white liberals that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, both the descendants of abolitionists, William English Walling and Dr. Henry Moscowitz issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice. Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.
Echoing the focus of Du Bois’ Niagara Movement began in 1905, the NAACP’s stated goal was to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law and universal adult male suffrage, respectively.
The NAACP’s principal objective is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of United States and eliminate race prejudice. The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through the democratic processes.
The NAACP established its national office in New York City in 1910 and named a board of directors as well as a president, Moorfield Storey, a white constitutional lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association. The only African American among the organization’s executives, Du Bois was made director of publications and research and in 1910 established the official journal of the NAACP, The Crisis.
NAACP in Civil Rights Era
By the 1950s the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, headed by Marshall, secured the last of these goals through Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed segregation in public schools. The NAACP’s Washington, D.C., bureau, led by lobbyist Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., helped advance not only integration of the armed forces in 1948 but also passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1964, and 1968, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Despite such dramatic courtroom and congressional victories, the implementation of civil rights was a slow, painful, and oft times violent. The unsolved 1951 murder of Harry T. Moore, an NAACP field secretary in Florida whose home was bombed on Christmas night, and his wife was just one of many crimes of retribution against the NAACP and its staff and members.
NAACP Mississippi Field Secretary Medgar Evers and his wife Myrlie also became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home was firebombed and later Medgar was assassinated by a sniper in front of their residence following years of investigations into hostility against blacks and participation in non-violent demonstrations such as sit-ins to protest the persistence of Jim Crow segregation throughout the south.
Violence also met black children attempting to enter previously segregated schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, and other southern cities. Throughout the south many African Americans were still denied the right to register and vote.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s echoed the NAACP’s goals, but leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, felt that direct action was needed to obtain them.
Although it was criticized for working exclusively within the system by pursuing legislative and judicial solutions, the NAACP did provide legal representation and aid to members of other protest groups over a sustained period of time. The NAACP even posted bail for hundreds of Freedom Riders in the ‘60s who had traveled to Mississippi to register black voters and challenge Jim Crow policies.
Led by Roy Wilkins, who succeeded Walter White as secretary in 1955, the NAACP, along with A. Philip Randolph,
following year, the Association accomplished what seemed an insurmountable task. In the following years, the NAACP began to diversify its goals.
The 21st Century Game Changers
In 2011, the NAACP launched a process to develop its strategic direction and plan, creating a powerful vision for the future, and setting organizational goals that would focus its work for the 21st Century.
It appears to work to rejuventate the base around key focus issues while rallying a new generation of younger members to help engage and prepare the organization to face future challenges.
The six NAACP Game Changers address the major areas of inequality facing African Americans that are and continue to be the focus of the NAACP’s work.
* Economic Sustainability- A chance to live the American Dream for all
Every person will have equal opportunity to achieve economic success, sustainability, and financial security.
* Education- A free, high-quality, public education for all
Every child will receive a free, high quality, equitably-funded, public pre-K and K-12 education followed by diverse opportunities for accessible, affordable vocational or university education.
* Health- Health equality for all Americans including a healthy life and high-quality health care
Everyone will have equal access to affordable, high-quality health care, and racially disparate health outcomes will end.
* Public Safety and Criminal Justice- Equitable dispensation of justice for all
Disproportionate incarceration, racially motivated policing strategies, and racially biased, discriminatory, and mandatory minimum sentencing will end. Incarceration will be greatly reduced and communities will be safer.
The death penalty will be abolished at the state and federal level, as well as in the military.
* Voting Rights and Political Representation
Protect and enhance voting rights and fair representation.
Every American will have free, open, equal, and protected access to the vote and fair representation at all levels of the political process. By protecting democracy, enhancing equity, and increasing democratic participation and civic engagement, African Americans will be proportionally elected to political office.
* Expanding Youth and Young Adult Engagement
Reaching out and engaging key age demographics that include those bore in 1979 and after.
Young adult engagement will be key in policy research, development and advocacy on all levels.
Greater support is being made to enhance the capacity of local units to recruit, engage, train and retain young adults. Innovative approaches are being taken on young adult membership and program engagement.
Reminded of the Struggle, But Focused on the Fight
From bold investigations of mob brutality, protests of mass murders, segregation and discrimination, to testimony before congressional committees on the vicious tactics used to bar African Americans from the ballot box, it was the talent and tenacity of NAACP members that saved lives and changed many negative aspects of American society.
The true movement lies in the faces–the diverse multiracial army of ordinary women and men from every walk of life, race and class–united to awaken the consciousness of a people and a nation. The NAACP will remain vigilant in its mission
During the whistle-stop visits around the country, the organization will be talking with local members will help them break through a sometimes cumbersome bureaucracy and figure out how to “address the issues and challenges that face African-Americans and our communities, according to Russell.
The first stop on the tour will be Detroit on Aug. 24, followed by San Antonio, in September, officials said.
“These problems are not going to be solved overnight,” Douglas said. “It will be a teaching process as we evolve, but the goal is for every person old and young to understand and know the issues before them and get in the fight and stay until justice is truly secured for all.”
*Part 2 – NAACP Houston’s Road To Change