By Daniel Johnson-Kim, Editor in Chief
When it comes to political groups, one easily can get lost in the flood of acronyms.
There is the Amendment-defending ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union.Save yourself the embarrassment of confusing the ACLU with the Ronald Reagan-loving ACU, the American Conservative Union.
Then there is the army of discount-wielding seniors in the AARP, the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons. You wouldn’t want to mix those seniors with the union-backing AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
Further down the alphabet, one of the most influential political organizations in the history of the United States has more scars, scraps and skirmishes than even the toughest U.S. veteran who holds an AARP membership card: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
On Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, the NAACP, a group dedicated to the fight to, “ensure the political, educational, social, economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination,” will celebrate its 100th birthday.
Although there could not be a more appropriate Centennial gift than the election and inauguration of the country’s first African American president, Barack Obama, the group that was behind the legislative lobbying and judicial battles in the fight against the status quo that segregation carries is needed today as much as its inception a little more than 100 years ago.
In the midst of a two-day riot in the summer of 1908, more than 5,000 spectators gathered in Springfield, Ill., to watch the lynching of two African American men. The riot stemmed largely from a false rape accusation, and mobs of angry citizens set fire to black-owned businesses and buildings in President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown.
More than 2,000 African Americans permanently fled Springfield, and news of the mess in Honest Abe’s city of origin reached Mary White Ovington, a white woman who was studying the social and economic obstacles facing New York City’s black community.
Despite being almost 1,000 miles away from the Springfield tragedy, Ovington and some 60 activists met with one mission: creating a group dedicated to reviving the spirit of the abolitionists that helped abolish slavery.
The National Negro Committee shared its first meeting with the day the country was celebrating a century since the birth of Lincoln – Feb. 12, 2009. The date was anything but a coincidence and carried a message with it: 100 years after Lincoln’s birth, his mission of equality of opportunity and equality before the law was overshadowed by the slavery’s scar: widespread acceptance of segregation.
Their name changed. Their numbers grew. Their victories piled up.
The most famous of these was in 1954, when Thurgood Marshall – later appointed the first African American Supreme Court Justice in 1967 – led the team of NAACP lawyers to victory in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The unanimous decision desegregated America’s schools and struck down the Plessey v. Ferguson “separate but equal” clause that was the basis for nation-wide segregation.
Ten years later, the NAACP had more than 600,000 members, and today the group is more than 250,000 strong. With all the large battles won, the organization helps this country’s minority groups with aid for college, fights racial profiling and does other smaller, but important, things to defend equality.
Since Obama’s election, the ignorant boss on NBC’s hit comedy The Office, Michael Scott, proudly touts to his staff at the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company that, “Racism is dead.”
That line always makes me laugh, but it was not until I began research for this column that I realized why Scott’s assumption was hilarious: it is foolish to assume this country’s racial tensions built on generations of inequality have magically disappeared simply because this country now has a non-white president.
The NAACP may be 100 years old, but the need for its defense of equality is alive, even in the era of Obama. This group’s name carries the struggles and victories of citizens who simply want one thing: equality.
It should be easy not to forget this acronym.