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The NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom

Grades: 9-12
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  • Overview

    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Founded in 1909, it was at the center of nearly every battle for the rights and dignity of African Americans in the twentieth century. Today, the NAACP honors its heritage of activism and continues to work for civil rights. This set of primary resources containing photographs and documents provides a window into this time period, as well as a Teacher's Guide with historical context and teaching suggestions.

  • Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Exposition Speech

    In this speech before an integrated audience at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, in September 1895, Booker T. Washington proposed a compromise by which African Americans would not agitate for social and political equality in return for the opportunity to acquire vocational training and participate in the economic development of the New South. The compromise won him the support of white industrialists, politicians, and philanthropists in the North and South. But his accommodating racial policy did little to improve the condition of African Americans. In the first decade of the twentieth century, a resurgence of racial violence led to nearly a thousand lynchings as well as race riots in Wilmington, North Carolina (1898); Atlanta, Georgia (1906); and Springfield, Illinois (1908).

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  • A Letter from Walter White to Jesse Owens

    In this letter, which was never sent, Walter White urges Jesse Owens not to participate in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, which were under Nazi rule. The U.S. did send an Olympic team to Berlin and Owens was its star, winning four gold medals.

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  • Teacher's Guide: The NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom

    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Founded in 1909, it was at the center of nearly every battle for the rights and dignity of African Americans in the twentieth century. Today, the NAACP honors its heritage of activism and continues to work for civil rights. This set of primary resources containing photographs and documents provides a window into this time period, as well as a Teacher's Guide with historical context and teaching suggestions.

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  • At the Ballot Box

    The NAACP’s commitment to universal suffrage is epitomized in this poster.  The would-be-voters behind the curtain, depicted only by their footwear, represent men and women from “different walks of life.”  The release of the poster coincided with the NAACP’s campaign to amend the Voting Rights Act in the 1970s.

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  • Attorneys for Brown v. Board of Education

    The Supreme Court bundled Brown v. Board of Education with four related cases and scheduled a hearing for December 9, 1952. A rehearing was convened on December 7, 1953 and a decision rendered on May 17, 1954. Three lawyers, Thurgood Marshall (center), chief counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and lead attorney on the Briggs case, with George E. C. Hayes (left) and James M. Nabrit (right). Attorneys for the Bolling case, are shown standing on the steps of the Supreme Court congratulating each other after the Court’s decision declaring segregation unconstitutional.

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  • Booker T. Washington

    Born a slave in Virginia, Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), became the most influential black leader in the United States between 1895 and his death in 1915. Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and built it into one of the nation’s best-known colleges. In 1900, he organized the National Negro Business League to foster black entrepreneurship. With an extensive network of supporters called the Tuskegee Machine, Washington exercised control over black federal appointments, the funds for black colleges, and the editorial policy of some newspapers. His power waned as racial violence and discrimination escalated. Washington recognized the NAACP as a challenge to his leadership and retaliated by trying to undermine the NAACP’s fundraising.

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  • Flyer for the 1989 Silent March on Washington

    The NAACP used a detail from a panoramic photograph of the 1917 silent march in New York City to illustrate the flyer for the 1989 symbolic silent march in Washington, D.C. protesting recent Supreme Court decisions. The detail shows W.E.B. Dubois (with walking stick) and James Weldon Johnson (to his left) marching with the parade’s marshals behind the row of drummers.

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  • Marian Anderson at Lincoln Memorial Concert

    On April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson, with NAACP support, performed an Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial broadcast nationally by radio. The integrated audience of 75,000, including members of the Supreme Court, Congress, and President Roosevelt’s cabinet, extended to the base of the Washington Monument. The scene, which symbolically united the martyred Civil War-era president with the struggle for black equality, would be restaged and exalted by the 1963 March on Washington.

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  • NAACP Officials Celebrating Twentieth Anniversary

    In 1929, the annual conference of the NAACP convened in Cleveland to mark the association’s twentieth anniversary. The NAACP had much to celebrate. It had launched a successful anti-lynching crusade, won important legal battles, and organized 325 branches across the country. The Crisis, the Association’s official organ, was the leading black periodical with a circulation of more than 100,000. Among the NAACP officials seated in the front row (left to right) are W.E.B. Du Bois, editor of The Crisis; James Weldon Johnson, NAACP Secretary, 1920–1930; Robert Bagnall, Director of Branches; Daisy Lampkin, Regional Field Secretary; Walter White, Assistant Secretary, 1918–1929; William Pickens, Field Secretary; and Arthur Spingarn, Chairman of the Legal Committee.

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  • The NAACP Flag

    In conjunction with the anti-lynching campaign, the NAACP began flying a flag from the windows of its headquarters at 69 Fifth Avenue when a lynching occurred in 1920. The words on the flag were “a man was lynched yesterday.” The threat of losing its lease forced the NAACP to discontinue the practice in 1938. The original canvas flag is housed with the NAACP Records in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

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  • A Letter from Walter White to Eleanor Roosevelt

    In January 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) barred Marion Anderson from performing her Howard University-sponsored spring concert at the DAR’s Constitution Hall, the largest concert venue in Washington, D.C. The NAACP established the Marian Anderson Citizens Committee to rally public support for the singer and secure a venue. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR to protest the exclusion. She worked with Walter White and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to arrange an outdoor concert for Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial in April coinciding with Easter and the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Mrs. Roosevelt also agreed to present the Spingarn Medal to Marian Anderson at the NAACP’s annual convention in July.

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  • Report on Lynching in the United States

    In 1916, the NAACP established an Anti-Lynching Committee to develop legislative and public awareness campaigns. In 1918 NAACP Secretary John Shillady directed the production of Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889–1918. This report recorded that 3,224 people were lynched during that period. Of these, 702 were white and 2,522 black. Among the justifications given for lynching were petty offenses such as, “using offensive language, refusal to give up land, illicit distilling.” The Committee also compiled lynching statistics in 1921. It took out full-page advertisements on November 22 and 23, 1922 in the New York Times, Atlanta Constitution, and other leading newspapers entitled “The Shame of America,” with the subheading “3,436 People Lynched 1889 to 1922.”

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  • "Call" for a National Conference to Address Racial Inequality

    In January 1909, an interracial group gathered in William English Walling’s New York apartment to discuss proposals for an organization that would advocate the civil and political rights of African Americans. Walling, Mary White Ovington, and Henry Moskowitz were the nucleus of the group. To garner support, the group decided to issue a call for a national conference on the centenary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1909. Written by Oswald Garrison Villard, “the Call” supposed Abraham Lincoln revisiting the country in 1909 to assess the progress of race relations since the Emancipation Proclamation. It ended with an appeal to “all believers in democracy to join in a national conference for the discussion of present evils, the voicing of protests, and the renewal of the struggle for civil and political liberty.” “The Call” was sent to prominent white and black Americans for endorsement. Among the sixty signers of the call were Jane Addams, John Dewey, W.E.B. Dubois, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Francis J. Grimke, and Ray Stannard Baker.

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  • Defending Voting Rights in Texas

    The Texas Democratic Party contended that a political party was a private association that could freely select its membership. This strategy was upheld by the Supreme Court in Grovey v. Townsend (1935). But, in United States v. Classic (1941) the Court conversely held that a primary was an integral part of the electoral process, not a private activity. Inspired by this decision, Thurgood Marshall decided to launch a new attack on the white primary. His client, Lonnie E. Smith, was a black dentist from Houston who had been denied the right to vote in the 1940 primary by Judge S.E. Allwright. On April 3, 1944, in Smith v. Allwright, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Smith, declaring the white primary void as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. Indicative of many of the NAACP’s early records, this memorandum reflects Marshall’s grueling travel schedule, as well as his acute sense of humor.

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  • Donald Murray's First Day of Law School

    Donald Murray was the first black student admitted to the University of Maryland Law School, in 1935. Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall prosecuted Murray’s case for the NAACP. In this statement to Thurgood Marshall, Murray describes the events that occurred on the first day he attended classes and also expresses his views on integration and prejudice. “I have enumerated these incidents because in no other way can I more clearly express the attitude of my class and to a lesser extent that of the remainder of the school. They have been kind, reasonable, and mature in their attitude of acceptance and several times I have found myself wondering if prejudice isn’t simply an unreasonable bias toward something one does not know—at least I am fairly sure this can be said of the more educated.”

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  • DuBois Congratulates Washington on Atlanta Speech

    Although W.E.B. Du Bois would later publish a pointed challenge to Booker T. Washington’s philosophy in his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), at the time of Washington’s Atlanta speech, Du Bois wrote this letter to express his congratulations. Dubois advocated uplifting African Americans through the higher education of a “Talented Tenth” of the population who could guide the masses to higher civilization. He believed it was important to press for immediate civil rights without compromise. Washington advocated economic strength as the key to advancement. He believed that through vocational training, African Americans would become productive workers in a segregated society. They would win the respect of whites by acquiring wealth and property and thus earn full citizenship in due time.

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  • The Idea for a 1941 Mass Protest

    In this letter labor leader A. Philip Randolph suggests to Walter White “a mass March on Washington” by thousands of African Americans to protest discrimination in defense industries and the armed forces. On June 18, A. Philip Randolph and Walter White met at the White House with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of War Robert Paterson, and other officials. On June 25, the threat of the march prompted President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in defense industries receiving government contracts. The Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) was set up to investigate and monitor hiring.

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  • Investigation of a Lynching

    Written by Walter White, this typescript documents the lynching of Sammie Smith in Nashville, Tennessee.

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  • Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine

    Daisy Bates, publisher of The Arkansas State Press and president of the Arkansas State Conference of NAACP Branches, led the NAACP’s campaign to desegregate the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thurgood Marshall served as chief counsel. The school board agreed to begin the process with Central High School, approving the admission of nine black teenagers. The decision outraged many white citizens, including Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, who ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School. When the black students tried repeatedly to enter, they were turned away by the guardsmen and an angry white mob. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to force Governor Faubus to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling and ensure the protection of black students. On September 25, 1957, federal troops safely escorted the students into Central High School. In the midst of the crisis, Daisy Bates wrote this letter to Roy Wilkins to report on the students’ progress.

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  • Mistreatment of Black Workers

    In 1932, numerous complaints about the mistreatment of black laborers working on the War Department’s Mississippi River Flood Control Project led the NAACP to send Helen Boardman to investigate. She found private contractors subjecting blacks to unequal pay, higher commissary prices, unsanitary camps, overwork, and beatings. Her report was referred to the War Department. When conditions persisted, the NAACP sent Roy Wilkins and George Schuyler to investigate. Disguised as laborers, Wilkins and Schuyler toured contractors’ camps for three weeks and confirmed Boardman’s report. The NAACP printed 10,000 copies of a leaflet, Mississippi River Slavery–1932, to inform the public. In September 1933, the Secretary of War announced a pay raise and shortened hours for unskilled Mississippi levee camp laborers.

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  • NAACP's Campaign for the Removal of the Confederate Flag

    In 1994, the NAACP began a campaign to remove the Confederate flag from all public property in South Carolina. Proponents of the Confederate flag tried to broker a compromise by removing the flag from the Statehouse dome and placing another battle flag near a Southern soldiers’ monument on the front lawn of the Statehouse grounds. The NAACP responded by calling for an economic boycott of South Carolina and by organizing a succession of protest marches. Every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, thousands march to the Statehouse in Columbia to call for the retirement of the Confederate flag. On January 17, 2000, more than 50,000 marchers rallied at the Statehouse in the largest civil rights demonstration in the South.

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  • William English Walling, a NAACP Founder

    William English Walling (1877–1936), a prominent socialist and journalist, was descended from wealthy Kentucky slaveholders. He was a founder of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, the Women’s Trade Union League, the Social Democratic League, and the NAACP. In 1908 Walling and his wife, Anna Strunsky, a revolutionary Russian Jew, traveled to Springfield, Illinois, to investigate the race riot. In his article,The Race War in the North, which appeared in the September 3 Independent, Walling declared: “the spirit of the abolitionists, of Lincoln and Lovejoy, must be revived and we must come to treat the negro on a plane of absolute political and social equality,” and he appealed for a “large and powerful body of citizens to come to their aid.” The article aroused the conscience of Mary White Ovington, a New York social worker, who wrote a letter to Walling offering her support.

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National Standards for History

Examine the history of the NAACP through this primary source collection.


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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

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    Library of Congress

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/naacp/

Contributor: Library of Congress-grayscale