The Early History of the NAACP: A Timeline

1909 to 1965

The Silent Parade of 1917.
The Silent Parade of 1917.

Underwood & Underwood / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

The NAACP is the oldest and most recognized civil rights organization in the United States. With more than 500,000 members, the NAACP works locally and nationally to “ensure political, educational, social, and economic equality for all, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.

Since its founding in 1909, the organization has been responsible for some of the greatest achievements in civil rights history.


Anti-Lynching Crusader Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells.

Fotoresearch / Getty Images

A group of African American and White men and women establish the NAACP. Founders include W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963), Mary White Ovington (1865–1951), Ida B. Wells (1862–1931), and William English Walling (1877–1936). The organization is originally called the National Negro Committee.


W.E.B. Du Bois
W.E.B. Du Bois.

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The Crisis, the official monthly news publication of the organization, is founded by W.E.B. Du Bois, who is also the publication's first editor. This magazine will go on to cover events and issues relevant to Black Americans throughout the United States. During the Harlem Renaissance, many writers publish short stories, novel excerpts, and poems in its pages.


A battle scene from D.W. Griffith's 1915 film 'The Birth of a Nation'
Ku Klux Klan members on horseback drive a Black militia out of town in a battle scene from 'The Birth of a Nation,' directed by D. W. Griffith, 1915.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Following the debut of "The Birth of a Nation" in theaters across the United States, the NAACP publishes a pamphlet titled "Fighting a Vicious Film: Protest Against 'The Birth of a Nation.'" Du Bois reviews the film in The Crisis and condemns its glorification of racist propaganda. The NAACP calls for the movie to be banned throughout the country. Although protests are not successful in the South, the organization successfully stops the film from being shown in Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.


people protesting lynch laws and Jim Crow
People protest lynch laws and Jim Crow.

Library of Congress / Getty Images

On July 28, the NAACP organizes the "Silent Parade," the largest civil rights protest in United States’ history. Beginning on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City, an estimated 10,000 marchers move silently up the streets holding signs that read, "Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?” and "Thou Shall Not Kill." The goal of the protest is to raise awareness about lynching, Jim Crow laws, and violent attacks against Black Americans.


James Weldon Johnson holding a telephone from the early 1900s
NAACP Executive Secretary James Weldon Johnson, a Black civil rights activist, pushes to get anti-lynching legislation through Congress in the 1920s.

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The NAACP publishes the pamphlet "Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1898–1918." The report is used to appeal to lawmakers to end the social, political, and economic terrorism associated with lynching.

From May to October 1919, a number of race riots erupt in cities throughout the United States. In response, James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), a prominent leader in the NAACP, organizes peaceful protests.


Scottsboro Boys
From left to right, the accused "Scottsboro Boys" are: Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Andy Wright, Willie Roberson, Ozie Powell, Eugene Williams, Charlie Weems, Roy Wright, and Haywood Patterson.

Bettman / Getty Images

During this decade, the organization begins providing moral, economic, and legal support to Black Americans suffering criminal injustice. In 1931, the NAACP offers legal representation to the Scottsboro Boys, nine young adults who are falsely accused of raping two White women. The NAACP's defense brings national attention to the case.


Harry S Truman
MPI / Getty Images

Harry Truman (1884–1972) becomes the first U.S. president to formally address the NAACP. Truman works with the organization to develop a commission to study and offer ideas to improve civil rights in the United States. The same year, Truman signs Executive Order 9981, which desegregates the United States Armed Services. The order states:

"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale."


Brown v. Board of Education
Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nickie sit on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nettie explains to her daughter the meaning of the high court's ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

The landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturns the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. The new decision states that racial segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The ruling makes it unconstitutional to separate students of different races in public schools. Ten years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to racially segregate public facilities.


Rosa Parks on bus
Rosa Parks on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Rosa Parks (1913–2005), a local chapter secretary of the NAACP, refuses to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions set the stage for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott becomes a springboard for organizations such as the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Urban League to develop a national civil rights movement.


President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.
President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.

U.S. Embassy New Delhi / Flickr

The NAACP plays a pivotal role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Through cases fought and won in the U.S. Supreme Court as well as grassroots initiatives such as the Freedom Summer, the NAACP appeals to various levels of government to change American society.


  • Gates Jr., Henry Louis. "Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008." New York: Alfred Knopf, 2011. 
  • Sullivan, Patricia. "Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement." New York: The New Press, 2009.
  • Zangrando, Robert L. "The NAACP and a Federal Antilynching Bill, 1934–1940." The Journal of Negro History 50.2 (1965): 106–17. Print.
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Lewis, Femi. "The Early History of the NAACP: A Timeline." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). The Early History of the NAACP: A Timeline. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "The Early History of the NAACP: A Timeline." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).