The National Association of Colored Women: Fighting for Racial Justice

Thirteen Presidents of the NACW, 1922. Public Domain

Founded:

The National Association of Colored Women was established in July of 1896 after Southern journalist, James Jacks referred to African-American women as “prostitutes," thieves and liars.”

African-American writer and suffragette, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin believed that the best way to respond to racist and sexist attacks was through social-political activism. Arguing that developing positive images of African-American womanhood was important to countering racist attacks, Ruffin said, "Too long have we been silent under unjust and unholy charges; we cannot expect to have them removed until we disprove them through ourselves."

With the help of other notable African-American women, Ruffin initiated the merger of several African-American women’s clubs including the National League of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro-American Women to form the first African-American national organization.

The organization's name was changed in 1957 to the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC).

Notable Members:

Mission:

The NACW’s national motto, “Lifting as We Climb,” embodied the goals and initiatives established by the national organization and carried out by its local and regional chapters.

On the organization's website, the NACW outlines nine objectives which included developing the economic, moral, religious and social welfare of women and children as well as enforcing the civil and political rights for all American citizens.

Uplifting the Race and Providing Social Services:

One of the NACW's main focuses was developing resources that would help impoverished and disenfranchised African-Americans.

In 1902, the organization's first president, Mary Church Terrell, argued: "Self-preservation demands that [black women] go among the lowly, illiterate, and even vicious, to whom they are bound to ties of race and sex...to reclaim them." 

In Terrell's first address as president of the NACW, she said, "The work which we hope to accomplish can be done better, we believe, by the mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters of our race than by the fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons."

Terrell charged members with the task of developing employment training and fair wages for women while establishing kindergarten programs for young children and recreational programs for older children.

Suffrage:

Through various national, regional and local initiatives, the NACW fought for the voting rights of all Americans.

Women of the NACW supported women's right to vote through their work on the local and national level. When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, the NACW supported the establishment of citizenship schools.

Georgia Nugent, chair of the NACW Executive Committee, told members, "the ballot without intelligence in back of it is a menace instead of a blessing and I like to believe that women are accepting their recently granted citizenship with a sense of reverent responsibility."

Standing Up To Racial Injustice:

The NACW vehemently opposed segregation and supported anti-lynching legislation. Using its publication, National Notes, the organization was able to discuss its opposition to racism and discrimination in society with a wider audience.

Regional and local chapters of NACW launched various fundraising efforts after the Red Summer of 1919. All chapters participated in nonviolent protests and boycotts of segregated public facilities.

Today's Initiatives:

Now referred to as the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC), the organization boasts regional and local chapters in 36 states. Members of these chapters sponsor various programs including college scholarships, teenage pregnancy and AIDS prevention.

In 2010, Ebony magazine named the NACWC as one of the top ten non-profit organizations in the United States.