Today in 1909: The NAACP is founded

February 12, 2011

As part of Black History Month, Westlaw Insider will be examining issues and events that have shaped African American history. 

Today in Legal History
Following race riots in Springfield, Illinois, a group of multi-racial, multi-religious individuals—including W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, Ida B. Wells, Henry Moskowitz, and William English Walling—convened to discuss ways to bring an end to violence against blacks, particularly the practice of lynching. Out of this meeting grew the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

From its founding, the NAACP relied on legal action to protect the political, educational, social, and economic rights of minority groups, including, but not limited to, African Americans. In 1915, the group won the Supreme Court case Guinn v. United States, which overturned the “grandfather clause,” a strategy for disenfranchising black voters. Other victories included Buchanan v. Warley, which deemed a racial segregation housing ordinance unconstitutional. 

Despite the NAACP’s accomplishments, some felt the group was too conservative because it conducted its work within the confines of “the system.” Further, it remained an interracial organization, distancing itself from black nationalism and the radical-leaning tactics of groups like the Black Panther Party. According to Roy Wilkins, executive director from 1964 to 1977, the group favored traditional means of seeking justice rather than “the kind that picks a fight with the sheriff and gets somebody’s head beaten.”

March on WashingtonRegardless of tactics, the NAACP helped pass key civil rights legislation in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The group also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington.

Having accomplished many of its civil rights-era goals, today the NAACP maintains its role as a legal advocate, placing its focus on disparities in economics, health care, education, and the criminal justice system. In 2006, the organization partnered with the National Association of Home Builders to author “Building on a Dream,” a housing report that provides legislators with policy recommendations to help people of color overcome barriers to securing safe and affordable housing.  

To learn more about the NAACP, view their interactive timeline, follow them on Twitter, or sign up for daily Black History Month facts.