The NAACP State Convention will be meeting in Monroe this weekend to discuss and debate issues that confront African-Americans across the nation and the state.
The NAACP is the oldest Civil Rights organization in the nation. Its courtroom battles in the early 20th century eliminated legal lynchings and school segregation. It was a major player in the formation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
What most people don’t know is that there are actually two national organization’s that carry the NAACP “label” but they are separate and often do not follow the same legal strategies. One group is called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the other is called the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund (NLDF).
What makes it confusing is that most of the legal victories won for Black Americans were not the actions of the NAACP, but those of the separate NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The most famous Legal Defense Fund action was the Brown vs Board of Education case of 1954 that outlawed school segregation in America.
The most historic battle of the NAACP nationally was the push to outlaw lynching in America 100 years ago.
Since that time the NAACP has helped to organize local chapters, trained local leaders, and provided information and direction to the struggle, but it has been reluctant to engage in court battles on the national level, especially those on the level of the anti-lynching law fight of 1918.
As the years have passed the organization’s activism has been greatly reduced. The National NAACP passes resolutions, makes speeches and holds press conferences, but has steered clear of the type of court battles, marches, boycotts and public protests that made it famous.
Generally, when the public hears about NAACP court battles, a closer look will reveal that it is a battle fought by the NAACP Legend Defense Fund, not the NAACP proper. For example: the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1956); Integration of Central High in Little Rock (1958); Integration of the Ole Miss (1962); The Famous Loving case in which allowed interracial marriage (1967); Restoration of Muhammad Ali Boxing License (1970) and many more were all Legal Defense Fund cases, not the NAACP.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund was set up separate and apart from the NAACP by the late Thurgood Marshall, the legal warrior, who didn’t back down and took scores of cases before the Supreme Court before being named to the court himself.
The NAACP has its own internal legal department but has few battles it fights on the national or local level.
Since the late 60’s the NAACP has been struggling to remain relevant. It’s members are getting older, more conservative and less likely to fight the wars fought historically.
In its prime, young people flocked to its ranks to help fight battles during the height of the struggle, but are mostly drawn today because of its talent search programs called ACTSO, image awards and other non-confrontational issues.
Who fights the national battles on behalf of our people? We hear of Black Lives Matter and We Too and other national groups, but generally the NAACP’s voice has been relatively silent..
To become relevant again, the NAACP must return to the ring instead of the banquet table, otherwise the name, which at one time meant respect in our community and fear among our enemies will mean nothing.
We saw that locally when the NAACP was neither respected by its own race or feared by others. In fact the Monroe City School board effectively raised a leg and pee-peed on the NAACP, like a dog does a fire hydrant. It did so with fear of push back or retaliation.
Earlier this year the NAACP president, Rev. Ambrose Douzart appealed to the Monroe City School Board not to seek unitary status which would remove court-ordered protection against discrimination.
When Rev. Douzart and nearly 30 members of the local NAACP appeared at the board meeting the President Rev. Rodney McFarland refused to allow the NAACP to speak for even three minutes at the school board meeting, as a predominately black school board watched. McFarland went as far as to humiliate the NAACP.
Douzart announced that the local NAACP would seek to intervene in the case, but did no more than talk with Justice Department attorneys. It’s unfilled legal threat effectively neutered the local branch and the NAACP as a whole, since the consent decree in question was filed by NAACP leaders in 1964.
Across the state, the NAACP has to rise above being an organization that makes speeches, holds press conferences and hosts banquets, but won’t fight.
As it meets this week, hopefully the organization will remember that it became famous 100 years ago because of its fight. When it stopped fighting, it’s membership declined.
The last big NAACP battle in Monroe was won in 1979 when Monroe changed its form of government to allow Blacks to serve in City Government. Other than that it’s mostly been banquets, banquets and more banquets.
We still need the NAACP, but we need the fighting organization, not the press conference, banquet hosting organization, to lead the next generation.