CHANGING OF THE GUARDS
Local NAACP pursues traditional objectives
By Joycelyne Fadojutimi/ETR
The Longview chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) opened its installation of 2019 officers with a word of prayer at Mount Olive Baptist Church where Reverend JD Palmer is pastor. Master of Ceremonies the Reverend Willie Marshall of the Harrison Church of Christ pointed out how the gathering was much more than a political meeting–it was an assembly to reiterate the goal of having God’s blessings and direction in all NAACP endeavors.
Pastor Lamar Jones was elected local NAACP president in 2017, but soon afterward suffered a massive heart attack that required a lengthy hospital stay. During Jones’ convalescence, First Vice-President Winsell Coleman directed the local chapter, assisted by wife Brenda. In a logical development, when election time rolled around, Coleman was voted president. Jones took over communications and publicity duties. Coleman’s main concerns now are voter’s rights, education and crime prevention.
“Those issues are still being fought in the 21st Century,” he said. “Voter suppression and other irregularities are problems one would think are in the past however, that is not the case.”
He pointed to Gregg County voter harvesting.
“There are problems with mail-in ballots, and people who work the elections influencing voters when in the voting booths,” he said.
Coleman stressed that the NAACP provides platforms for all parties and candidates to insure voters can make informed decisions without being influenced in the voting booth. His dedication to other matters is equally certain.
He pointed out how his education committee will be collaborating with local school districts to eliminate gaps in academic achievement. This panel will also cooperate with parents to increase parental involvement in their children’s education. Crime is yet another major concern.
“We plan to engage in organizing a grassroot information session with the community that will yield results in crime reduction,” he said.
Upon taking the gavel, Coleman pointed out that racial harmony is a key objective, and without White Americans there would likely be no NAACP.
“Yes, there were African-Americans there at the formation of the oldest and largest civil rights organization, but white people were also concerned about injustice,” he said. “The color of blood is red. Therefore, I would be concerned if the police shot and killed a white kid.”
Coleman is a savvy and experienced crusader for civil rights. He served on the staff of J.C. Watts during the renowned Anita Hill hearings. He supported both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
“Malcolm was a radical who said you have the right to defend yourself. Dr. King was known for his peaceful marches,” he said. “Both leaders served different purposes. You can call me Malcolm King.”
His pride in the Longview NAACP Chapter is apparent.
“This chapter is not a poor unit. We have not wasted money,” he said. “White, Black, Hispanic, Jew, Gentile, the doors to the NAACP are open for everyone to participate.”
Founded in New York City in 1909 by white and black activists, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Initially its objective was addressing the violence habitually directed against black Americans during the country’s long period of institutionalized racism. One of the organization’s first operations was addressing in the matter of two black men held in a jail in Springfield, Illinois in 1908 for alleged crimes against white people. When the two were secretly moved to another jail for their own safety a lynch mob rioted, burning 40 black homes in Springfield, ransacking local businesses and killing two blacks. As the civil rights era dawned and proliferated in the 1950s and 1960s, the Association expanded from its primary anti-lynching crusade into establishing civil rights in all aspects of society. Today the NAACP fields 2200 branches and counts a half million members.
For situations like this, the NAACP took root under the direction of white founders Mary White Ovington, Henry Moscowitz, William English Walling and Oswald Garrison. Black founders included W.E.B. DuBois, Ida Wells-Barnett, Archibald Grimke and Mark Church Terrell. Sociologist/writer DuBois led the Niagara movement, a civil rights organization started in 1905. The NAACP’s founding charter remains in effect today–championing equal rights, eliminating injustice and to “advance the interests of colored people” as to voting rights, legal justice educational and employment options.
The Association’s first president was a white lawyer named Moorfield Storey. DuBois was the sole black member of the first leadership team, and also served as director of publications and research. In 1910, DuBois commenced publication of The Crisis, the first major publication for black writers. It is still in print. These newly established organs quickly bore fruit.
In 1910, Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment permitting those whose grandfathers had been eligible to vote in 1866 to register to vote without having to pass a literacy test. This abolished the “grandfather clause” which allowed illiterate whites to vote without taking a literacy test while illiterate blacks were required to take and pass this test, essentially denying them the ballot. The NAACP won this battle on a national basis in 1915 when the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Guinn versus the United States, that grandfather clauses were unconstitutional.
That same year, the Association called for a boycott of the movie Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and demonized black Americans. Although the movie was still a financial success the NAACP’s courageous opposition to it raised the group’s public profile. Momentum was building.
In 1917, 10,000 Americans of all persuasions silently marched in New York City to protest and call attention to lynching and all forms of violence against blacks. Sponsored by the Association, it was a pioneering demonstration in opposing such injustice. By 1919 the NAACP had an impressive 90,000 members and over 300 chapters. Although it never managed to get anti-lynching legislation enacted, it did raise public awareness and revulsion of this crime to the extent that the murders steadily declined. Still, the first year with no reported lynching was not until 1952. By this time, the Association was making great strides.
In 1954, the NAACP led the way to the Supreme Court striking down sanctioned segregation in public schools. Pioneering civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall was head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF.) He successfully argued this case in front of the high court. It was one of many legal matters he took to court after founding the LDF in 1940. His victories on behalf of voting and housing rights brought him national acclaim to the point that in 1967 he became the first black member of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The NAACP was deeply involved in the pivotal 1963 March on Washington, and in the 1965 Mississippi/Freedom Summer that spurred widespread registration of black voters in that state.
The victories kept coming as the Association lobbied hard for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin. Voting rights were finally, completely insured in 1965 with NAACP-supported passage of the Voting Rights Act.
There were those who criticized the Association for its preference for taking the slow route to social change through the courts and Congress rather than the more direct (and often violent) methods favored by nationalist groups. The gradual path to justice could indeed be costly. In 1962 a white supremacist murdered NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers as he was leaving his home in Jackson, Mississippi. Not all problems were racial, however.
As the 20th Century wound down the Association began experiencing financial problems, and some members pointed to what they perceived to be a lack of direction. Still, the NAACP remains the quintessential civil rights organization, working for equality in jobs, education, healthcare, voting rights and the criminal justice system. It also lobbies for removal of Confederate memorabilia from public property. In 2009, America’s first president of African descent,, spoke at the Association’s 100th birthday celebration.
Another century of service is just getting started.
The Racial History of the “Grandfather Clause.” NPR.
Google memorializes the Silent Parade when 10,000 black people protested lynchings. Washington Post.
Anti-Lynching Legislation Renewed. U.S. House of Representatives.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom. Library of Congress.https://www.history.com/topics/civil-rights-movement/naacp