Rosa Parks forever changed history
when she refused to yield her seat on
that Montgomery, Alabama, bus in
1956. A lesser-known piece of history
reveals that one of the motives behind
her act was that she was haunted by the
kidnapping, beating and murder of
Emmett Till the year before. Parks was,
simply, fed up.
Till, a 14-year-old black Chicagoan,
was visiting relatives in Mississippi
when he was lynched for allegedly
whistling at a white woman. His mutilated
body, unrecognizable even to his
mother, coupled with the acquittal of
his killers, made headlines.
On hand throughout Rosa Parks’s ordeal,
the Emmett Till trial and countless
other chapters in African-American history
for the last century was the
National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP), fearless
soldier/citizens committed to
defending the most vulnerable.
The organization turns 100 this
month, but its mission—and the vitality
with which it has been carried out—is ageless.
A Dream Realized
Whether he realizes it or not, President
Barack Obama begins his term with
the weight of every African-American
on his shoulders. It’s a heavy burden:
Some of the votes likely cast his way
were from older black citizens who
haven’t always been able to exercise
But the issue of voting rights is only
one facet of the struggle African-Americans have faced in the past century.
The NAACP has stood guard
through every battle.
The group’s tenets are simple: “To
promote equality of rights; to eradicate
caste or race prejudice among the
citizens; 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 the children,
employment according to their ability
and complete equality before the law.”
The fight to ensure these rights, however,
hasn’t been so easy.
Founded on February 12, 1909, by 60
multiracial activists in New York City,
the NAACP’s principal goal was to
improve the lives of black Americans,
many of whom lived under the oppressive
Jim Crow laws which legalized and
The NAACP set to work early on trying
to eliminate the lynching of black
citizens. In 1919, the NAACP published
Thirty Years of Lynching in the United
States, 1889-1918, which awakened
white America to the epidemic. In
1921, the organization took a step further
by sponsoring the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. Lynchings sharply
declined as a result.
But the NAACP truly came into
prominence through its own Legal
Defense and Educational Fund (LDF).
Started in 1940 as a wing of the NAACP,
the LDF made headlines in the 1950s
after Linda Brown, a Kansas student,
was refused admittance to an all-white
Her father, Oliver Brown, sought
counsel with Topeka’s branch of the
NAACP. Wanting to end segregation in
public schools, the LDF sprang into
action. Born from that struggle was the
U.S. Supreme Court’s monumental
Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
The NAACP has also done epic work
with voters’ rights. Despite the 15th
Amendment guaranteeing that civil
liberty, black citizens in some states
faced scare tactics, literacy tests and
poll taxes designed to discourage.
The NAACP countered like a general
waging battle, sending troops to the
front lines in the form of trained
activists who risked their lives to register
Many historians believe the NAACP’s
efforts quietly guided President
Lyndon Johnson’s hand as he signed
the Voting Rights Act on August 6,
1965. The black community prevailed
that day, but it was the true spirit of
America that won.
The NAACP’s formation in February
of 1909 was intended to commemorate
President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th
birthday. It’s a fitting connection:
Lincoln freed the slaves; the NAACP
fought to let that freedom ring.
And the fight continues. Today, the
organization offers programs dedicated
to civic engagement, education, economic
empowerment and training.
The NAACP, by encouraging African-Americans to realize their own potential,
is continuing a legacy that has
made the United States stronger, fairer.
By focusing on color, the NAACP has
helped to make our country color-blind.
Perhaps it seeks to prevent another
tragedy like Emmett Till. In the wake of
his murder, blacks in the 1950s were
action. Donations to the NAACP
soared. Volunteering skyrocketed. Like
Rosa Parks, people were fed up.
Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of
Emmett Till, had this to say of the
African-Americans who, under the
watchful eye of the NAACP, spoke out
against the white men who murdered
her son and the white establishment
that made life for blacks across the
“When they saw what had happened
to my son, people became vocal who
had never vocalized before. People
stood up who had never stood up
They have been standing proudly
To learn more, log on to www.naacp.org.