What Led to the Formation of the NAACP?

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What led to the formation of the NAACP?

In 1909,  The National Association of Colored People (NAACP) was established after the Springfield Riots. Working with Mary White Ovington, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois and others, the NAACP was created with the mission to end inequality. Today, the organization has more than 500,000 members and works on local, state and national levels to "ensure the political, education, social and economic equality for all, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination." 

But how did the NAACP come to be? 

Almost 21 years before its formation, a news editor named T. Thomas Fortune, and Bishop Alexander Walters founded the National Afro-American League. Although the organization would be short-lived, it provided the foundation for several other organizations to be established, leading the way for the NAACP and ultimately, an end to Jim Crow Era racism in the United States. 

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The National Afro-American League

Kansas Branch of the National Afro-American League
Kansas Branch of the National Afro-American League. Public Domain

In 1878 Fortune and Walters founded The National Afro-American League.  The organization had a mission to fight Jim Crow legally yet lacked political and financial support. It was a short-lived group that led to the formation of the AAC.  

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National Association of Colored Women

Thirteen Presidents of the NACW, 1922. Public Domain

 

The National Association of Colored Women was established in 1896 when African-American writer and suffragette  Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin argued that African-American women's clubs should merge to become one. As such the National League of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro-American Women joined to form the NACW.

Ruffin argued, "Too long have we been silent under unjust and unholy charges; we cannot expect to have them removed until we disprove them through ourselves."

Working under the leadership of women such as Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells and Frances Watkins Harper, the NACW opposed racial segregation, women's right to vote, and anti-lynching legislation. 

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The Afro-American Council

The Afro-American Council Annual Meeting, 1907
The Afro-American Council Annual Meeting, 1907. Public Domain

In September of 1898, Fortune and Walters revived the National Afro-American League. Renaming the organization as the Afro-American Council (AAC), Fortune and Walters set out to finish the work they began years earlier: fighting Jim Crow.  

The AAC's mission was to dismantle Jim Crow Era laws and ways of life including racism and segregation, lynching and disenfranchisement of African-American voters.

For three years--between 1898 and 1901--the AAC was able to meet with President William McKinley.

As an organized body, the AAC opposed the “grandfather clause” established by Louisiana’s constitution and lobbied for a federal anti-lynching law.

Finally, it was one of the only African-American organizations that readily welcomed women into its membership and governing body--attracting the likes of Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell. 

Although the mission of the AAC was much clearer than the NAAL, conflict within the organization existed. By the turn of the twentieth century, the organization had split into two factions--one that supported the philosophy of Booker T. Washington and the latter, that did not. Within three years, members such as Wells, Terrell, Walters and W.E. B. Du Bois left the organization to launch the  Niagara Movement.

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The Niagara Movement

Image Courtesy of Public Domain

In 1905, scholar  W.E.B. Du Bois and journalist William Monroe Trotter founded the Niagara Movement. Both men opposed Booker T. Washington's philosophy of "casting down your bucket where you are" and desired a militant approach to overcoming racial oppression.  

At its first meeting on the Canada side of Niagara Falls, almost 30 African-American business owners, teachers and other professionals came together to establish the Niagara Movement. 

Yet the Niagara Movement, like the NAAL and AAC, faced organizational issues that ultimately led to its demise. For starters, Du Bois wanted women to be accepted into the organization while Trotter wanted it managed by men. As a result, Trotter left the organization to establish the Negro-American Political League.

Lacking financial and political backing, the Niagara Movement did not receive support from the African-American press, making it difficult to publicize its mission to African-Americans throughout the United States.