On this day February 12, 1909

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States, was founded to work on behalf of the rights of African Americans.

naacplogoNAACP mission is “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination”.

Its name, retained in accord with tradition, is one of the last surviving uses of the term colored people.

In 1905, a group of 32 prominent, outspoken African Americans met to discuss the challenges facing “people of color” (a term that was used to describe those who were not white people) in the U.S. and possible strategies and solutions.

Among the issues they were concerned about was the disfranchisement of blacks in the South starting in 1890 to 1908, when Southern legislatures ratified new constitutions creating barriers to voter registration and more complex election rules. Voter registration and turnout dropped markedly in the South as a result. Men who had been voting for 30 years were told they did not “qualify” to register.

Because hotels in the U.S. were segregated, the men convened under the leadership of Harvard scholar W. E. B. Du Bois at a hotel situated on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. As a result, the group came to be known as the Niagara Movement. A year later, three whites joined the group: journalist William E. Walling, social worker Mary White Ovington, and Jewish social worker Henry Moskowitz, then Associate Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

The fledgling group struggled for a time with limited resources and decided to broaden its membership to increase its scope and effectiveness. Solicitations for support went out to more than 60 prominent Americans, and a meeting date was set for February 12, 1909.

This was intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, who emancipated enslaved African Americans. While the meeting did not take place until three months later, this date is often cited as the founding date of the organization.

The Race Riot of 1908 in Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, the previous summer had highlighted the urgent need for an effective civil rights organization in the U.S. This event is often cited as the catalyst for the formation of the NAACP.

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