Tee shirts are all the rage and not just because they are simple and functional garments, but because they are perfect for conveying our political stances. Nowadays that is almost a daily requirement. One t-shirt that has become somewhat popular reads: “Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands” This caption suggests that our fore mother and fore fathers got it wrong or that they were not rebellious enough or they did not fight back hard enough. Now depending on who you talk to there is some truth to that sentiment but I would go farther to say that it oversimplifies the experience and accomplishments of those who came before us. A core value of our work at CREAD is the Sankofa principle. We emphasize time and again the importance of knowing your history in order to move forward.
So we can be big and bad in our t-shirts all day, but we can never minimize the foundation that was built for us by our elders by their work, sacrifices and accomplishments. At the start of the 20th century part of that foundation was being laid with the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
This year marks the NAACP’s 108th year of organizing, advocating and resisting for social justice. We’ve written here before about white allies; well it was a group 50 white civil rights activists and philanthropists that came together in 1908 to form the NAACP. The body was made up of 60 people, seven of whom were African-American. Established in 1909 in response to the white terrorist lynchings of black men around the country, the organization has fought for civil rights in the courts, in institutions of learning, in the workplace and at the ballot box. At the beginning of the 20th century the membership of the organization went from 9,000 to 90,000 in a matter of a few years. Today, the NAACP has a membership of over half a million both here in the U.S. and abroad.
The legal victories won by the organization have been at the core of their work from the very beginning, with its earliest goal being to secure constitutional rights for blacks. In 1940, a young Thurgood Marshall become the first director-counsel of the NAACP as it continued to seek change for blacks with legal battles through its Legal Defense Fund (LDF). There at least ten landmark cases that NAACP-LDF has won in helping bring about racial and social justice. In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Marshall successfully litigated to bring about the end of segregation in public schools. Over the years Marshall and many other LDF lawyers helped change laws and practices that denied us voting rights, access to transportation and constitutional rights in the military draft.
Today the organization of our grandparents and great-grandparents continues to advocate and fight on behalf of black and brown people in this country. Leadership of the organization remains committed to continued resistance in the face of institutional racism and injustice. Last month, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and five others were arrested for their protest of Trump nominee, Jeff Sessions. And earlier today leadership is calling for a “transparent investigation” of the police killing of Jacques Clemmons in Nashville.
The NAACP is among the oldest and boldest organizations fighting for racial justice. It is our ancestor of advocacy, we our its descendants of dissent and its progeny of political justice. Therefore as we build new coalitions like Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero we must look at the blueprints of those that came before us and the foundations of their work to learn and improve upon. Those who are older have helped us all be bolder in the face of today’s challenges and for that we should be thankful.
Peace good people…
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