During the 1990s the NAACP pursued economic empowerment, youth programs, and voter registration as top priorities. To "stem the tide of black land loss," the NAACP supported black farmers in a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging racial discrimination. The NAACP began a campaign to protest the flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. The NAACP also addressed the rise in hate crimes, evinced by a series of black church fires that swept the Southeast.
As it celebrates its centennial, the NAACP is reflecting on the progress made and the work still to be done. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the NAACP continues to seek new ways of defining its mission. The organization is endeavoring to expand membership and build coalitions by reaffirming its origins as a racially and ethnically diverse human rights organization. While supporting enforcement of existing civil rights laws, the NAACP is devising new strategies to redress racial disparities in education, employment, housing, health care, the criminal justice system, civic engagement, and voting rights. As long as racial hatred and discrimination exist, the NAACP will wage a relentless campaign “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons.”
A Resurgence of Racism on U.S. College Campuses
In this letter Benjamin Hooks expounds on “the growing vehemence of racial hostility on college campuses throughout the land” to garner support for the NAACP’s 1990 membership drive. In November, the NAACP Youth and College Division hosted a conference on Racism and Violence on College Campuses at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, which attracted 150 students representing 25 institutions. Subsequently, NAACP college chapters responded to blatant incidents of campus racism with forums, protest marches, editorials, and meetings with academic administrators.
NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Chavis
Benjamin Chavis (b. 1948) grew up in Oxford, North Carolina, attended the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, and earned advanced degrees in theology from Duke and Howard universities. He attracted international attention in 1972, when he was wrongly convicted with nine other civil rights activists of arson and conspiracy in Wilmington, North Carolina. The convictions were overturned in 1980. In 1985 Chavis became executive director of the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice. He was elected NAACP Executive Director in 1993. Chavis urged the NAACP to bring young urban blacks into the organization and take up environmental issues. He was forced to resign in1994 for using NAACP funds to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit. In 1997 he joined the Nation of Islam and became a Muslim minister, taking the name Chavis Muhammad.
NAACP Board of Directors Myrlie Evers-Williams
A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Myrlie Evers-Williams (b. 1933) met Medgar Evers while attending Alcorn A & M College. They married in 1951 and together ran the NAACP state office. After his assassination, she became vice president of an advertising agency and director of consumer affairs for Atlantic Richfield. In 1988 she became the first black woman to serve as commissioner for the public works in Los Angeles. In 1995 she ran against and defeated NAACP chairman William Gibson, after he was accused of financial mismanagement. Evers-Williams served as NAACP chairman until 1998, restoring the NAACP’s finances and reputation.
Kweisi Mfume (b. 1948), worked as a popular Baltimore radio personality before forging a successful career in politics. He served on the City Council from 1978 to 1986, and in 1987 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he led the Congressional Black Caucus. He left Congress in 1996 to become president of the NAACP and held the post until 2004. Mfume helped to revitalize the NAACP by erasing debt and increasing assets and membership. He proposed a five-point plan, which focused on “the protection of civil rights and civil liberties, voter empowerment, educational excellence, economic empowerment, and youth.” His many achievements on the domestic front included the Economic Reciprocity Initiative, TV Diversity Agreements, and the “Get Out the Vote” campaign. In international affairs, Mfume persuaded the United Nations to grant the NAACP Non-Government Organization (NGO) status, enabling the NAACP to serve as an advisor and consultant to foreign governments.
Press Release about the Official Church Fire Hearings
In January 1996 the NAACP asked the Justice Department to investigate a series of black church fires in the Southeast after receiving reports from NAACP branches in Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The Justice Department had already begun a criminal civil rights investigation. Criticism about the conduct of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents in the field prompted a congressional hearing. NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume testified before the House Judiciary Committee on May 21. He recommended that the Justice Department assume responsibility for coordinating an interagency task force and that federal agents revise interview techniques to avoid intimidation in order to increase the effectiveness of the investigation. After the hearing, Congress passed the Church Arson Prevention Act, which increased the maximum penalty for church arson to twenty years.
Remarks on the Economic Reciprocity Initiative
In 1997 the NAACP launched the Economic Reciprocity Initiative (ERI) as an arm of the Fair Share Program. The ERI entails reviewing industries for their record “in employment, vendor development, advertising, investment opportunities, and philanthropy with the African American community.” The NAACP issues reports grading the companies on performance “through [a] process of research, evaluation, communication, and monitoring. Consumers are then encouraged to use the information to make informed choices about spending.” The first ERI consumer choice guide and report card focused on the hotel industry.
Pigford et. al. v. Glickman
In 1997 black farmers filed a class action lawsuit, Pigford et al v. Glickman, against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) alleging racial discrimination in the allocation of farm loans and technical assistance. The lawsuit ended with a settlement in which the USDA agreed to compensate black farmers who were victims of discrimination between 1981 and 1999. On March 2, 1999, NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton testified before District Judge Paul Friedman on the proposed settlement. To date, nearly $1 billion dollars has been paid to over 16,000 farmers.
Statement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Fairness Hearing on Pigford et al v. Glickman, Civil Action Case No. 97-CV-1978 PLF before the United States District Court, March 2, 1999. Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (151.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0151p1
As a veteran civil rights activist and public servant Julian Bond (b. 1940) has been in the vanguard of the fight against social injustice and inequality. While a student at Morehouse College, he led sit-in demonstrations against segregation and co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From 1974 to 1987, he sponsored more than sixty bills in the Georgia State Senate that became laws. He expanded his influence through the media as a popular television host, commentator, lecturer, and writer. In 1990 Bond joined the history department at the University of Virginia. He returned to the national spotlight in 1998 when he was elected chairman of the NAACP board of directors. Bond worked with NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to revive the activism that characterized the NAACP in the 1950s and 1960s. He also partnered with Mfume to revitalize the NAACP through a $50 million fundraising campaign and membership drive.
NAACP A “New Day Begun,” 1998
James Weldon Johnson wrote the lyrics to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in 1900, while he was the principal of the Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida. His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, a gifted musician, wrote the music. The song was originally intended for a school celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday. Later adopted by the NAACP, it became known as the “Negro National Anthem.” Artist Frank Frazier borrows a line from the song—“Facing the rising sun of our new day begun”—for the title of this poster, which depicts an African festival. Created in 1998, the poster heralds the coming of a new era for the NAACP in the twenty-first century.
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.
Kweisi Mfume to Mannie Jackson, Chairman/Owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, thanking Jackson for his donation in support of the NAACP’s effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capital grounds, June 6, 2000. Typed letter. Page 2 - Page 3. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (154.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0154p1
The 2000 Presidential Election
After the 2000 presidential election, the NAACP received numerous complaints about voter irregularities in Florida. The NAACP held a public hearing in Miami to provide a forum for disenfranchised voters. Although the NAACP sent the hearing transcript to the Justice Department for investigation, no action was taken. On January 10, 2001, the NAACP joined other organizations to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of voters against Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the Director of the Florida Division of Elections Clay Roberts, and Georgia Corporation Database Technologies for unfair voting practices.
NAACP President and CEO Bruce S. Gordon
Bruce Gordon (b. 1946), the son of teachers, grew up in Camden, New Jersey. After graduating from Gettysburg College in 1968, he forged a successful career in the telecommunications industry. He excelled at Bell of Pennsylvania, becoming vice president for marketing in 1988. In 1993 he was named group president for retail markets at Bell Atlantic. He retired in 2003 as retail markets group president for Verizon Communications. He was elected NAACP President and CEO in 2005. Gordon proposed retooling the NAACP to focus more on social services versus social justice advocacy. His accomplishments include the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Campaign and the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He resigned in 2007 because of irreconcilable differences with the NAACP Board.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous
Benjamin Jealous (b. 1973) grew up in Pacific Grove, California. A graduate of Columbia University, he earned a master’s degree from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He quickly advanced to leadership positions in advocacy organizations. In 1999 he became executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He was named director of Amnesty International’s U.S. Human Rights Program in 2002 and president of the Rosenberg Foundation in 2005. At age 35, in 2008, he became the youngest president in the NAACP’s history. Jealous plans to focus on a set of core civil rights issues including education, economic empowerment, and criminal justice. He hopes to attract youth by extending the NAACP’s online presence to social networking sites. He is also reaching beyond the black community to build the NAACP’s membership.
Roslyn M. Brock, Chair, NAACP Board of Directors
Roslyn Brock (b. 1965) grew up in Fort Washington, Maryland, and attended Virginia Union University’s college and school of theology. She also earned master’s degrees from George Washington and Northwestern universities. She has served as vice president at Bon Secours Health System since 2001 and was formerly a program associate in health care at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Brock began her twenty-six year career with the NAACP as a youth board member. Elected vice chair of the Board in 2001, she created the annual NAACP Leadership 500 Summit in 2005 to recruit and train young leaders. In 2010, she became the youngest person, at age 44, to head the board. Brock is working with Benjamin Jealous to broaden the NAACP’s membership and revitalize its tradition of advocacy. She is particularly interested in health care reform.