Spurred by growing racial violence in the early 20th century, and particularly by 1908 race riots in Springfield, Illinois, a group of Black and white leaders joined together to form a new permanent civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
February 12, 1909 was chosen because it was the centennial anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. In its charter, the NAACP promised to champion equal rights and eliminate racial prejudice, and to “advance the interest of colored citizens” in regard to voting rights, legal justice and educational and employment opportunities.
Since its inception, the NAACP has worked to achieve its goals through the judicial system, lobbying and peaceful protests. In 1910, Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment allowing people whose grandfathers had been eligible to vote in 1866 to register without passing a literacy test. This “grandfather clause” enabled illiterate whites to avoid taking the reading test while discriminating against illiterate blacks, whose ancestors weren’t guaranteed the right to vote in 1866, by requiring them to pass a test in order to vote.
The NAACP challenged the law and won a legal victory in 1915 when the U.S. Supreme ruled in Guinn v. United States that grandfather clauses were unconstitutional. Also in 1915, the NAACP called for a boycott of Birth of a Nation, a movie that portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in a positive light and perpetrated racist stereotypes of blacks. The NAACP’s campaign was largely unsuccessful, but it helped raise the new group’s public profile.
In 1954, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, led by Thurgood Marshall, argued the historic Brown v. Board of Education case, where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the separate but equal doctrine in public schools.
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