As the United States entered World War II, the NAACP joined union organizer A. Philip Randolph in support of a massive March on Washington to protest discrimination in the armed forces and defense industries. The march never took place. In the midst of the war, NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White toured the European, Mediterranean, and Pacific Theaters of Operation to observe and report on the experience of black soldiers. In 1945 the NAACP sent Walter White and W. E. B. Du Bois to the United Nations Conference on International Organization to propose the abolition of the colonial system. Du Bois reinforced the NAACP’s position in 1947 by submitting to the United Nations “An Appeal to the World,” a petition linking the history of racism in America to the treatment of people of color under colonial imperialism. The following year, in response to NAACP pressure, President Harry Truman issued two executive orders banning discrimination in federal employment and armed forces. On the legal front, the Supreme Court handed the NAACP important victories against all-white voting primaries, segregation in interstate travel, and restrictive covenants in Smith v. Allwright, Morgan v. Virginia, and Shelley v. Kraemer.
NAACP’s 1940 Fundraising Festivities
The NAACP’s anniversary festivities sometimes included birthday dances to raise funds. On February 11, 1939, the NAACP held a nationwide series of branch dances to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Association. The key dance was held in New York City with Duke Ellington donating the services of his band for the occasion. Buoyed by the success of the program, the NAACP held a similar dance in New York on February 26, 1940 featuring Count Basie and his orchestra. Both events were broadcast nationally by radio.
Louise E. Jefferson. NAACP Birthday Ball at the Golden Gate Ballroom with Count Basie and his Orchestra, February 26, 1940. Poster. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (092.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.24947]
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.
The Negro in National Defense
A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979) and Walter White scheduled the March on Washington for July 1, to follow the NAACP’s Annual Convention in Houston, Texas, held from June 24 to June 29, 1941. The threat of launching the massive demonstration from the convention persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in defense industries and government departments, and set up the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to investigate and monitor hiring. The theme of the convention was “The Negro in National Defense.”
Louise Jefferson. The Negro in National Defense—NAACP Conference, Houston, Texas, June 24–29 —Fight Now for Action. Poster. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (088.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca-24949]
African American Soldiers during World War II
During World War II the NAACP renewed efforts to end discrimination in the military. At the war’s onset, only the Army accepted black draftees. Through NAACP intervention, President Roosevelt established black organizations in every major branch of the armed services. He also appointed William Hastie as civilian aide to the Secretary of War and Colonel Campbell C. Johnson as executive assistant to the Director of Selective Service. The Air Force began training black pilots in 1941 at a segregated base at Tuskegee Institute. In 1942 the Navy and Marines agreed to enlist blacks for general service, but most were assigned to menial tasks or construction work. William Hastie resigned in 1943 to protest the continuing discrimination. In 1944 all-white army divisions were integrated as black troops answered the call to volunteer for the Battle of the Bulge. They later returned to segregated non-combat units.
[African American soldiers on patrol near bombed buildings, somewhere in Europe]/ U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1944. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (091.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3c33628]
NAACP Washington Bureau
The NAACP opened a Washington Bureau in 1942 to serve as a legislative arm and national policy office with Walter White as the first director. The NAACP Washington Bureau assumed responsibility for tracking and influencing federal legislation, monitoring government agencies that administered federal regulations and programs, testifying before Congress, and working with other organizations with similar objectives.
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.
NAACP’s 1944 Wartime Poster
In 1942 the NAACP joined the “Double V” Campaign being conducted by the Pittsburgh Courier. The purpose was to mobilize black civilians to fight for “a double victory–full democracy abroad and at home.” They were encouraged to help defeat the Axis forces abroad by participating in Civilian Defense programs and Jim Crow at home by supporting the NAACP. The campaign’s hope is symbolically captured by this poster. It shows a hand labeled “NAACP” grasping a dead crow, “Jim Crow,” over a flaming battlefield. Jim Crow’s feet are shackled with the tattered flags of Nazi Germany and Japan.
Elton Fax. “Come, let us take counsel together!” Attend NAACP Wartime Conference for Total Peace,” Chicago, July 12–16 . Poster. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (91.02.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.24948]
A Rising Wind, 1945
As a special correspondent for the New York Post, from 1944 to 1945 Walter White toured war zones in England, North Africa, Italy, and the South Pacific to investigate complaints of mistreatment by black soldiers. At the request of General Eisenhower, he submitted a 14-point memorandum to the War Department with recommendations for improving opportunities for black servicemen. These included establishing a special court-martial review board, activating black combat troops, and integrating recreation facilities. White reprinted a selection of his eyewitness reports in his book A Rising Wind, 1945.
Morgan v. Virginia, 1946
On July 16, 1944, Irene Morgan refused to surrender her seat to white passengers and move to the back of a Greyhound bus while traveling from Gloucester County, Virginia, to Baltimore, Maryland. She was arrested and convicted in the Virginia courts for violating a state statute requiring racial segregation on all public vehicles. The NAACP appealed her case to the Supreme Court. On June 3, 1946, by a 6-to-1 decision, the Court ruled that the Virginia statute was unconstitutional when applied to interstate passengers on interstate motor vehicles because it put an undue burden on interstate commerce.
NAACP Youth Conference
In 1939 the NAACP Youth and College Division organized its first annual conference to mobilize young people to help carry out the NAACP’s program. Youth Secretary Ruby Hurley presided over the 8th Annual Conference, which met at Dillard University in New Orleans, November 21–24, 1946. Three hundred delegates representing twenty-two states and the District of Columbia gathered to take up the theme “Youth will be heard.” Judge Hubert T. Delany of New York delivered the keynote address. Thurgood Marshall and NAACP Louisiana Counsel A. P. Tureaud were also speakers. This poster was designed by Elton Fax, an award winning cartoonist, muralist, and illustrator.
Elton Fax. NAACP 8th Annual Youth Conference in New Orleans, November 21–24, 1946. Poster. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (093.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.24950]
President Truman’s Speech to the 38th Annual NAACP Convention
On June 29, 1947, President Harry Truman addressed the NAACP 38th Annual Convention audience of 10,000 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the first president ever to do so. He declared in a speech broadcast nationally by radio that the federal government must take the lead in guaranteeing the civil rights of all Americans. On October 29 the President’s Committee on Civil Rights released its report, To Secure These Rights. Among the recommendations were an anti-lynching law, the abolition of the poll tax, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), the desegregation of the military, and laws to enforce fair housing, education, health care, and employment.
President Harry Truman to Walter White concerning the speech he delivered at the 38th Annual NAACP Convention, July 9, 1947. Typed letter. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7 - Page 8 - Page 9 - Page 10 - Page 11 - Page 12. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (095.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0095_01]
An Appeal to the World
In 1944 W.E.B. Du Bois returned to the NAACP as director of special research. He was to collect extensive data on the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to ensure the representation of their interests in postwar planning. As a conclusion to his work, he prepared Appeal to the World with a team of prominent lawyers and scholars. The book-length petition focused on the historic denial of the rights and privileges of citizenship to African Americans. Appeal was formally presented to the United Nations Division on Human Rights on October 23, 1947, just after the UN had debated the treatment of blacks and minorities in South Africa, Southwest Africa, Palestine, and Asia. It was later debated by the Drafting Committee of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
W. E. B. Du Bois et al. Appeal to the World: A Statement on the Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress, 1947. Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (095.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0095p1]
Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948
After the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated segregation ordinances in Buchanan v. Warley (1917), whites resorted to private restrictive covenants―agreements barring blacks and other minorities from owning or renting property―to maintain residential segregation. For more than twenty years the NAACP initiated lawsuits to nullify restrictive covenants, with few successes. In 1945, J.D. Shelley, a black man, purchased a home in St. Louis covered by a restrictive covenant. Louis Kraemer, a white neighbor, obtained an injunction in the Missouri Supreme Court to bar occupancy. The NAACP appealed Shelley v. Kraemer along with restrictive covenant cases from Detroit and Washington, D.C. to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 3, 1948 the Court affirmed in Shelley v. Kraemer and McGhee v. Sipes the right of individuals to make restrictive covenants, but held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause prohibited state courts from enforcing the contracts. On the same day, the Court ruled in Urciolo v. Hodge that restrictive covenants could not be enforced by federal courts.
Truman Executive Orders Barring Discrimination
On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued two executive orders. Executive Order 9980 instituted fair employment practices in the civilian agencies of the federal government. Executive Order 9981 directed the armed forces to provide “equality of treatment and opportunity for all personnel without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin” and established a presidential committee chaired by former Solicitor General Charles Fahy to monitor compliance.
A National Civil Rights Campaign
In October 1949 the NAACP’s National Emergency Rights Committee invited sixty advocacy organizations to unite in a National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization that would organize a conference and mass lobby for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) and other civil rights proposals. For three days, January 15–17, 1950, more than 4,000 delegates representing the NAACP, as well as labor, religious, and civil liberties groups descended on Congress to urge the passage of the bills. Led by Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, and Arnold Aronson, Program Director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, they also agreed to form a Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a future coalition to lobby for civil rights laws and monitor their compliance.
NAACP Acting Secretary Roy Wilkins to Officers of Branches, State Conferences, Youth Councils, and College Chapters, regarding National Civil Rights Campaign, October 21, 1949. Memorandum. Page 2 - Page 3. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (098.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0098p1]
Supreme Court Decisions against Segregation
Complete Text of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions: The Henderson Case, The McLaurin Case, The Sweatt Case. Pamphlet. Pittsburgh: The Pittsburgh Courier, 1950. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (099.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0099p1