The Early History of the NAACP: A Timeline

1909 to 1965

Early History of the NAACP
Members of the San Diego Chapter of the NAACP with W.E.B. Du Bois. Public Domain

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (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.

1909

A group of African-American and white men and women establish the NAACP. Founders include W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, Ida B. Wells, and William English Walling. The organization is originally called the National Negro Committee.

1911

The Crisis, the official monthly news publication of the organization, is established. This magazine will go on to cover events and issues relevant to African-Americans throughout the United States. During the Harlem Renaissance, many writers publish short stories, novel excerpts, and poems in its pages.

1915

Following the debut of "The Birth of a Nation" in theaters across the United States, the NAACP publishes a pamphlet entitled "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 protests to have the movie banned throughout the United States. 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.

1917

On July 28, the NAACP organizes 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 African-Americans.

1919

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

1930-1939

During this decade, the organization begins providing moral, economic, and legal support to African-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 of the boys brings national attention to the case.

1948

President Harry Truman becomes the first 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.

That same year, Truman signs Executive Order 9981, which desegregates the United States Armed Services. The Order states that "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."

1954

The landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, overturns the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. The 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.

1955

A local chapter secretary of the NAACP refuses to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her name is Rosa Parks and 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 (SCLC), and Urban League to develop a national civil rights movement.

1964-1965

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.