National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People.
- Manfred Berg
A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909 and is America's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Throughout its hundred years of existence the association has fought all manifestations of racial segregation and discrimination and demanded equal rights and opportunity for all Americans regardless of race and color. Its preeminent goals have been the full integration and participation of African Americans and other racial minorities in the promise of American democracy.
In waging this struggle the NAACP has employed a broad range of strategies and methods, including legal action, political lobbying, public relations campaigns, voter registration and education, boycotts, and mass protest. Since its early days its membership has been overwhelmingly African American, but the association has always considered itself interracial and sought cooperation with and support from liberal majority-white organizations. In spite of unrelenting white-supremacist repression, internal frictions, and challenges from other antiracist groups, the NAACP has persevered over the last century as the most recognized and influential force in the struggle for black civil rights in the United States.
The NAACP was founded in the aftermath of the notorious race riots in Springfield, Illinois, in August 1908. William English Walling, a young journalist who had investigated the riot on-site, and the New York social worker Mary White Ovington brought together a small group of white northern progressive reformers, most of whom had family ties to the abolitionist tradition, to discuss how the rising tide of racism in America could be stemmed. The newspaper publisher Oswald Garrison Villard, a grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, drafted a “Call” that was published on 12 February 1909, the centenary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth, and proposed a national gathering on the race question. This National Negro Conference was held in New York City on 31 May and 1 June 1909 and is regarded as the founding act of the NAACP, although the organization adopted its official name a year later. The majority of those attending the National Negro Conference were white philanthropists and social reformers, but the black participants included the spearheads of African American protest such as the antilynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the radical editor William Monroe Trotter, and, most important, the scholar, author, and racial activist W. E. B. Du Bois.
Four years earlier Du Bois had initiated the so-called Niagara Movement, named after the group's first meeting place in Canada, in opposition to Booker T. Washington, then the most prominent black leader in the United States and head of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, who counseled African Americans to earn full citizenship and the respect of their white compatriots through hard work and self-discipline. In the view of Du Bois and his associates, Washington's philosophy of accommodation amounted tacitly to accepting the white-supremacist doctrines of black inferiority. Equality of rights, the radicals believed, was a necessary condition for economic progress rather than its ultimate reward, and could be achieved only by courageously protesting racial injustice and oppression. But the Niagara Movement was little more than a small band of black intellectuals bereft of financial means and torn by internal feuds. Hence Villard's “Call” offered Du Bois and other black protesters the opportunity to establish a radical biracial civil rights organization. Not surprisingly, Washington declined the invitation to the National Negro Conference and considered the founding of the NAACP a serious challenge to his leadership position within the black community. Tensions between Tuskegee and the NAACP eased, however, after Washington's death in 1915.
Programmatically, the new association pledged itself to active opposition to racial hatred and prejudice and promised not to shy away from exposing the sordid truth about the treatment of black Americans. Du Bois was appointed the director of publications and research of the NAACP, and in November 1910 he began publishing its official journal, The Crisis, serving for nearly twenty-five years in this position. Most of the NAACP's early leaders, however, were white, including the association's president, its chairman of the board of directors, its treasurer, and its executive secretary. The prestige, money, and political connections of prominent whites played a key role in securing the NAACP's survival during its early years but also provoked much criticism that the group was controlled by whites. Moreover, frequent clashes between Du Bois and the white NAACP executives raised the question of how far racial equality extended within the association.
As early as 1916, however, the transition to black leadership was initiated by Joel Elias Spingarn, the Jewish chairman of the NAACP's board of directors, who gathered several hundred black and white racial reformers at his country home in Amenia, New York. Following the Amenia Conference the black writer and diplomat James Weldon Johnson joined the NAACP as a field secretary and in 1920 became its first African American executive secretary. Johnson was joined by two other black activists, the journalist Walter White and the educator William Pickens, making the national office predominantly African American. At the same time a balance between black and white members had been achieved in the association's board of directors. This transfer of leadership was accomplished without forcing white NAACP leaders or members out of the organization.
The changes at the top reflected those at the bottom. By 1920 the membership of the association was roughly 90 percent African American, and its branches had spread out all over the country. During its first decade the NAACP grew from a few hundred members and a handful of branches to a membership in excess of ninety thousand and more than three hundred local units, including 130 in the South, where segregation, disfranchisement, and discrimination were most firmly entrenched. This was possible because the NAACP established for itself a reputation as an active and courageous protest organization. It provided legal aid to black victims of racist criminal justice and carried lawsuits challenging Jim Crow laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1915 the NAACP launched a boycott and propaganda campaign against the movie The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and vilified blacks as dangerous rapists. Following the bloody race riot in East Saint Louis, Missouri, in July 1917, the association organized a march of ten thousand protesters along New York City's Fifth Avenue. During World War I, The Crisis exposed the shameful treatment of African American soldiers by the U.S. military.
Among the NAACP's most salient activities was the struggle against the crime of lynching, which claimed the lives of dozens of black men every year, particularly in the South. The association investigated individual lynchings in order to expose the perpetrators and bring them to justice—invariably to no avail—and it lobbied for a federal antilynching bill in order to coerce state and local authorities into curbing mob violence. Although no federal law was passed, the association's propaganda and lobbying campaigns contributed to the discrediting and eventual demise of lynching.
Not all African Americans agreed with the NAACP's integrationist program and its approach of working within the confines of the American legal and political systems. In the early 1920s the association faced a serious ideological challenge from the Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded by Marcus Garvey, a native of Jamaica who had come to the United States in 1916 and begun preaching the vision of a future powerful nation of Africa of which he pronounced himself the provisional president. Garvey's message of black pride, nationalism, and separatism won him a sizable following among urban blacks in the North and led to a head-on confrontation with the NAACP and W. E. B. Du Bois, whom Garvey despised as a representative of the mulatto elite and a race traitor. The NAACP in return denounced Garvey as a dangerous demagogue and accused him of embezzling the savings of African Americans who had invested in Garvey's all-black shipping company. Eventually the Garvey challenge subsided after the Jamaican was sentenced to five years in prison for fraud, depriving his movement of its leader.
On the Left the NAACP was challenged by the Communists, who considered African Americans as a national minority and as the most oppressed and exploited part of the American working class. Racism would be overcome by the overthrow of capitalism, not by integrating blacks into the system. During the early 1930s the NAACP clashed with the Communist International Labor Defense (ILD) over the defense of the so-called Scottsboro Boys, a case in Alabama that involved nine black youths sentenced to death for the alleged rape of two white girls. Although the NAACP at first planned to handle the case quietly, the ILD and the Communist Party USA turned it into a big international propaganda campaign, accused the NAACP of being a traitor to the black masses, and made no secret of its intention to drive a wedge between the NAACP members and their leaders. Eventually, however, the ILD and the NAACP successfully cooperated in saving the lives of the Scottsboro defendants.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was an unmitigated economic disaster for African Americans and profoundly affected the NAACP's work and ideological outlook. The association lost many members who were unable to pay the annual membership fee of one dollar, and its income was cut in half. Against the backdrop of mass poverty and increased racial discrimination in the economic sphere, many of the younger NAACP activists came to embrace socialist ideas, viewing the plight of African Americans primarily as a matter of class rather than of race. As early as 1932 the NAACP's annual conference passed resolutions calling for a new economic program for black America that would involve the redistribution of wealth, higher taxes for the rich, and social security programs for American workers regardless of race or color. The young socialist intellectuals, led by the Howard University sociologist Abram Harris Jr., even proposed to transform the NAACP into some kind of interracial labor organization.
Most of the association's members and leaders, however, continued to distrust the often rabid racism among white labor unions and to view themselves first and foremost as an oppressed racial minority. Although the NAACP preserved its character as a civil rights organization, it nevertheless opened itself to cooperation with the labor movement, particularly to the newly created Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Thus the NAACP during the Great Depression became part of the New Deal coalition supporting liberal social policies that would benefit not only blacks but all poor Americans. The NAACP's relationship with labor, however, remained ambivalent for decades. Although at the national level labor unions and leaders supported civil rights legislation and made financial contributions to the associations, at the local level many all-white unions continued to resist the desegregation of the workplace and equal opportunity for black workers.
In 1934 Du Bois resigned his editorship of The Crisis magazine and all other official positions that he held within the NAACP following a bitter dispute with the executive secretary Walter White and the board of directors. Having become disillusioned by white America's unrelenting resistance to racial integration, Du Bois began calling for black self-help and the creation of autonomous all-black economic and social institutions, distinguishing between forced and discriminatory segregation on the one hand and voluntary separation on the other. Most other NAACP leaders, however, rejected Du Bois's ideas, which they found reminiscent of Washington's accommodationism and Garvey's separatism. Segregation in all shapes and forms, they insisted, was predicated on the notion of black inferiority, and any compromise with the principle only played into the hands of white supremacists. Du Bois, in contrast, pointed to the fact that black churches, colleges, or fraternal orders already formed the backbone of the black community and demanded that the NAACP heed race pride and loyalty. The controversy over segregation, however, reflected not so much differences of principle as a power struggle within the NAACP leadership, particularly between Du Bois and the executive secretary White, a light-skinned, blond, blue-eyed African American with close social ties among white society. The NAACP was obviously not big enough for these two immensely self-confident men and their claim to leadership. Eventually White, the savvy organization man, prevailed over Du Bois, the intellectual.
Approaches and Achievements.
Since its inception the NAACP had built an effective and competent legal department to aid black victims of racial discrimination and to fight the pillars of institutional racism—most important, the infamous separate-but-equal doctrine coined in the 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that segregation did not violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution so long as the separate facilities were of equal quality. For many years the association's legal work depended on the pro bono services of experienced and widely respected white lawyers such as Moorfield Storey or Arthur Barnett Spingarn, who both also served as NAACP presidents. In early 1932, however, the responsibility for handling lawsuits was shifted to a group of talented young black lawyers educated at Howard University under the tutelage of William Henry Hastie and Charles Hamilton Houston, two black Harvard graduates. Houston, who was the first black NAACP lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court, was appointed special counsel of the association in 1935. Four years later he was succeeded by his former student Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice.
The lawsuits brought or supported by the NAACP helped undermine the legal foundations of institutional racism in many respects. The association's lawyers were instrumental in obtaining decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down the grandfather clause—an odd device crafted by some states to protect illiterate whites from literacy tests designed to exclude black voters (Guinn v. United States, 1915)—and ordinances mandating the racial segregation of neighborhoods (Buchanan v. Warley, 1917). In assisting black defendants who had been sentenced to death in a courtroom dominated by a mob, the NAACP helped establish an important principle of due process of law (Moore v. Dempsey, 1923).
In its legal campaign against the white primary, which excluded black voters from the all-important Democratic primaries in southern states based on the proposition that parties were private associations and thus free to exercise racial discrimination, the association scored two partial victories before the Supreme Court in 1928 (Nixon v. Herndon) and 1932 (Nixon v. Condon). Eventually the white primary was declared unconstitutional in 1944 in Smith v. Allwright, a decision that marked a major triumph of the NAACP's legal strategy. However, not only was litigation expensive and time-consuming, but the guardians of white supremacy invariably found new legal loopholes to circumvent court decisions in favor of civil rights. The actual impact of legal action on the struggle for civil rights and racial justice remains controversial among historians.
In fighting mandatory segregation the association's lawyers focused on universities and schools because improving the quality of education was widely seen as the key to black advancement. It was relatively easy to demonstrate that the segregated educational facilities for black schoolchildren and students in the southern states were vastly inferior to those for whites. Forcing the state authorities to establish two separate educational systems of equal quality, it was hoped, would render segregation too expensive to be maintained in the long run. Indeed, in 1938 the Supreme Court ordered the state of Missouri to provide black law students with equal facilities or else admit them to the law schools for whites (Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada). The danger of this approach, however, was that by enforcing the separate-but-equal doctrine it might help make segregation safe from constitutional challenges. Attacking segregation as inherently unconstitutional, on the other hand, involved the risk that the Supreme Court might reaffirm Plessy. Hence Marshall and his associates waited until the early 1950s before they devised a legal strategy to challenge segregated schools head-on. Famously, their plan worked, and the Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregated schools were “inherently unequal.”
The NAACP did not confine itself to the courtroom, however. During the Great Depression its urban branches participated in boycotts of businesses refusing to hire black employees. As the United States was preparing to enter World War II, the association, along with other black leaders and organizations, pressed the federal government to take steps against racial segregation and discrimination in the military and defense industries. In early 1941 it joined forces with the black labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who called for a march of ten thousand African Americans protesters to Washington, D.C. The initiative resonated strongly among African Americans and prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to avert the march by issuing an executive order, number 8802, banning discrimination on account of race, creed, color, or national origins in defense industries and government agencies. To enforce the order the temporary Fair Employment Practices Commission was created. Segregation in the armed forces, however, was abolished only in 1948 by Executive Order 9981 from President Harry S. Truman.
During World War II, the NAACP did not suspend its protests against racial discrimination but insisted that America must live up to the ideals for which it claimed to fight. The politicization of African Americans during the war was mirrored in the association's impressive growth. Between 1940 and 1946 its membership increased from roughly 40,000 to at least 400,000 in more than 1,100 branches nationwide, including more than 700 southern branches. To make its lobbying efforts more effective the NAACP in 1942 established a Washington bureau that was headed for many years by Clarence Mitchell. The national office was also expanded by adding labor and public relations departments. Under the leadership of White and his assistant Roy O. Wilkins the NAACP developed into a strong and efficient, albeit somewhat bureaucratic, organization that was widely recognized as the leading voice of civil rights in the United States.
In the early Cold War the association got caught up in the anticommunist hysteria that temporarily threatened to stifle the struggle for black freedom and civil rights. In trying to defend its program and organization the NAACP joined the camp of liberal anticommunism and disassociated itself from the progressive Left. While white supremacists and right-wing anticommunists denounced the NAACP as Communist fellow travelers, the association barred Communists from its membership and enjoined its branches from working with the radical Left. Du Bois, who had temporarily rejoined the NAACP as the director of special research in 1944, was again forced out of the organization for his support of the progressive presidential candidate Henry Wallace and for his public praise of the Soviet Union.
Apart from the ouster of Du Bois, however, the association's leadership did not conduct any large-scale purges of its local branches and attempted to keep a lid on discussing the issue of Communist influence within the organization. Some historians have sharply criticized the liberal anticommunism of the NAACP as short-sighted and opportunistic, but others have defended it as both inevitable and plausible, given the immense pressures of the Red Scare and the long-standing ideological antagonism between the NAACP and Communism. At the same time the association sought to exploit the Cold War by denouncing racial discrimination in America as grist for the Soviet propaganda mill and harmful to national security. In 1947 the association even petitioned the United Nations (UN) to investigate racial discrimination in the United States as a violation of the UN Charter.
The NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement.
Following the Supreme Court's Brown decision of 1954 the NAACP leaders believed that their strategies of patient lobbying and litigation were finally paying off and that the days of the Jim Crow system were numbered. But Brown sparked a furious backlash in the white South and did not produce quick desegregation. At the same time the emergence of an activist social movement among southern blacks based on nonviolent direct action caught the association's leadership by surprise, although NAACP branches played an important role in this process at the grassroots level. The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955–1956, for example, was initiated by the local NAACP branch. To be sure, the association welcomed the upsurge in civil rights activism, but its national leaders also perceived such activism as a strategic and organizational challenge. With new actors and organizations entering the scene, it seemed possible that the NAACP might fall behind and eventually become obsolete.
Although in public the leaders of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr. treated each other with respect and friendship, the leaders feared that King would ultimately try to supplant the NAACP with his own Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Moreover, the NAACP's executive secretary Roy Wilkins, who prided himself as “Mr. Civil Rights,” considered King as a young upstart seeking media attention. The generational conflict was even more pronounced in the NAACP's relationship with the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, whose activists were mostly in their early twenties and appeared to have little appreciation for the NAACP's historic role.
Most important, the association's leadership was highly ambivalent about the use of nonviolent direct action to expose the moral evil of southern racism. It was worried that too much radicalism could trigger a backlash among the white mainstream and resented that the nonviolent protesters often relied on the NAACP to bail them out of jail. During the 1960s the association raised perhaps as much as $3 million in bail money, of which only a fraction was repaid. The skepticism of the national leaders notwithstanding, many local NAACP branches and youth groups also employed nonviolent direct action such as boycotts and sit-ins. Moreover, because Freedom Rides, sit-ins, or mass demonstrations dramatized the plight of blacks before the national media the NAACP had no choice but to condone and support such action. Most important, nonviolent action paid off in that it ultimately forced the federal government to intervene on behalf of peaceful protesters assailed by vicious racist mobs.
All the same the NAACP did not resign its claim to leadership but stepped up its already considerable efforts in the field of voter registration. From the late 1940s onward, NAACP registration drives had played a major part in increasing the number of African American voters in the South from roughly 600,000 in 1946 to 1.4 million in 1960. By focusing on voter registration the association hoped to open up a channel for mass participation and to reassert its organizational strength over its rivals. Indeed, during the Voter Education Projects of the 1960s the NAACP could rely on its large network of local branches in the southern states and launched an impressive effort to reenfranchise black southerners. As the black electorate was growing, the association lobbied in Washington, D.C., for effective legislation to end Jim Crow. However, the landmark civil rights laws—the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting segregation, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, placing the electoral process in large parts of the South under federal control—came only in the aftermath of nonviolent direct-action campaigns led by King in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama.
In the second half of the 1960s the civil rights movement split up, and race riots in the black ghettos of the urban North shattered the United States. Whereas many former advocates of nonviolence and integration embraced a militant and separatist black nationalism and heeded the battle cry of “Black Power,” the NAACP stuck to its integrationist program and its approach of working within the system. NAACP leaders condemned Black Power as a reverse racism and denounced all calls for separatism as self-defeating. The association, which had traditionally espoused black America's patriotism, also rejected the radicals’ criticism of the war in Vietnam and insisted that civil rights and Vietnam were separate issues. Because President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society seemed to fulfill many of the goals for which the NAACP had fought for decades, the association refrained from criticizing Johnson's war policies.
Not surprisingly, the association suffered vitriolic attacks from the Black Power radicals, who denounced it as an organization controlled by the white establishment, derided its leaders as Uncle Toms, and declared its methods and goals irrelevant. There was also considerable opposition within the NAACP from a group of so-called Young Turks who demanded a more flexible approach to Black Power and tried to oust the autocratic Wilkins at the 1968 annual convention, albeit to no avail. Moreover, the NAACP's strong base among middle-class African Americans in the North and the South worked against radicalization and gave stability to the NAACP's organizational framework. Despite some ups and downs, membership continued to stand at a level between 450,000 and 500,000 in more than 1,100 local units.
The NAACP in the Post–Civil Rights Era.
As the direct-action phase of the civil rights movement petered out and Black Power radicalism waned in the early 1970s, the NAACP regained its status as America's leading advocate of civil rights. The association continued to focus on its traditional approaches and methods, including voter registration to boost black electoral clout, litigation, and lobbying for new and stronger protections against racial discrimination. This time around, however, the NAACP was in a much better position than it had been before the reforms of the 1960s. Civil rights and the rejection of open racism had become part of the national consensus, enabling the association to tap new sources of support. In 1965 the NAACP established a new tax-deductible Special Contribution Fund that attracted considerable donations by major corporations and foundations such as the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie. Still, the contributions and dues from its mostly black membership remained its main source of income.
In fighting discrimination in the courts the NAACP was now armed with the highly effective weapons of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The association's lawyers focused on three areas: the enforcement of school integration, including busing; voting rights and political representation; and equal opportunity in employment. Between 1965 and 1977 the association's labor secretary Herbert Hill filed several thousand complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and initiated numerous lawsuits against corporations and labor unions that continued to obstruct the desegregation and nondiscrimination rules required by law. In the area of voting rights the focus was enlarged from traditional methods to deny blacks registration and ballot access to more sophisticated methods of minority-vote dilution such as racial gerrymandering and at-large elections. Moreover the NAACP continued its ongoing registration drives and lobbied successfully for the extension of the Voting Rights Act. Although the record is of course mixed, the relentless litigation efforts by the NAACP contributed substantially to making civil rights legislation effective.
The post–civil rights era, however, also saw numerous attempts at turning back the clock and subverting the hard-fought achievements of the civil rights struggle. Not surprisingly the relations between the NAACP and the conservative Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were less than cordial. The Reagan administration in particular targeted affirmative action programs that opened up education and employment opportunities to disadvantaged minorities, saying that these programs violated the principles of “color blindness,” while it contemporaneously proposed a tax break to the racially segregated private Bob Jones University. By political mobilization and litigation the NAACP helped thwart this plan and subsequently played a major role in defeating the nomination of the conservative judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. On a practical level the association tried to open up new employment opportunities for minorities by establishing so-called Fair Share Programs with major corporations. Moreover it participated in the mobilization efforts of the 1980s to bring about a change in U.S. policy toward the South African apartheid regime.
During the 1990s, however, the NAACP went through a period of internal crisis that seemed to threaten its very existence. In an attempt to stem the loss of members and to attract more young people, the executive director Benjamin Chavis-Muhammad tried to open up the association to black nationalism. He repeatedly met with Louis Farrakhan (Louis X), the leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI), and agreed with him on the need for black unity, despite Farrakhan's well-known rabid anti-Semitism. Predictably the advances to the NOI sparked heated controversy within the association, and its traditional supporters among the Jewish community were incensed and threatened to withdraw. When Chavis had to admit that he had misused NAACP funds for personal purposes, he was finally ousted in 1994. It turned out that the association had accumulated a large debt and was tottering toward bankruptcy. Some commentators even called for its dissolution and a new beginning under a new name.
The crisis was solved, however, by a new leadership that included Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of the martyred Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Wylie Evers, who was elected as the new chairwoman of the board of directors in 1995. Evers-Williams's election also signified the overdue recognition of the role of women, who had been a majority among the membership for some time. The same year, Kweisi Mfume, a prominent Democratic congressman from Baltimore and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was elected the new president of the NAACP and, more important, also its new executive director. Under the leadership of Mfume the association managed to consolidate its finances and reestablish good relations with its historic allies among liberal groups. From 1998 Julian Bond, a legendary civil rights activist of the 1960s who integrated the Georgia state legislature, served as the chairman of the board of directors.
During the controversial 2000 presidential election it again became clear that the traditional objective of the NAACP to secure the right of minorities to register, cast a ballot, and have it fairly counted had not lost its importance. The NAACP led a court challenge against the purging of black voters from the registration lists of Florida. Subsequently its relationship with the administration of President George W. Bush was rather cold, with the president refusing to address the NAACP's annual conventions for five consecutive years until 2006. However, throughout its century of history the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has frequently demonstrated that it does not depend on the goodwill of presidents in carrying out its manifold activities to remove the barriers of racial discrimination and prejudice from American life.
[See also Amenia Conferences; Anticommunism and Civil Rights; Antilynching Campaign; Civil Rights; Civil Rights Act of 1964; Civil Rights Movement; Communism and African Americans; Crisis, The: A Record of the Darker Races; Desegregation and Integration; Discrimination; Disfranchisement of African Americans; Jim Crow Laws; Laws and Legislation; Legal Profession; Lynching and Mob Violence; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; National Negro Conference; Niagara Movement; Plessy v. Ferguson and Segregation; Political Participation; Racism; Riots and Rebellions; Segregation; Supreme Court; Violence against African Americans; Voting Rights Act; Washington–Du Bois Conflict; and articles on people, organizations, and legal cases mentioned in this article .]
- Berg, Manfred. The Ticket to Freedom: The NAACP and the Struggle for Black Political Integration. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. A comprehensive political history of the NAACP focusing on the period from 1909 to 1970.
- Cortner, Richard C. A Mob Intent on Death: The NAACP and the Arkansas Riot Cases. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1988. An account of the NAACP's successful defense of the black victims of mob justice in Arkansas.
- Goings, Kenneth W. The NAACP Comes of Age: The Defeat of Judge John J. Parker. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. An account of an NAACP campaign to defeat a Supreme Court nomination by President Herbert Hoover.
- Janken, Kenneth R. White: The Biography of Walter White, Mr. NAACP. New York: New Press, 2003. An excellent biography of the longtime NAACP leader Walter White.
- Johnson, James Weldon. Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson. New York: Viking, 1933. Memoirs of the NAACP executive secretary, writer, and diplomat.
- Jonas, Gilbert. Freedom's Sword: The NAACP and the Struggle against Racism in America, 1909–1969. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. An account of the NAACP's history written by a former employee.
- Kellogg, Charles F. NAACP: A History of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967. A detailed but dated narrative of the NAACP's founding and first decade.
- Klarman, Michael J. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. A comprehensive analysis of race and constitutional history during the Jim Crow era.
- Lewis, David L. W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919. New York: Henry Holt, 1993. The first part of a comprehensive biography of the Crisis editor and NAACP cofounder.
- Lewis, David L. W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919–1963. New York: Henry Holt, 2000. The second part of a comprehensive biography of the Crisis editor and NAACP cofounder.
- Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. Along the Color Line: Explorations in the Black Experience. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976. A collection of pioneering essays in the history of the NAACP.
- Reed, Christopher Robert. The Chicago NAACP and the Rise of Black Professional Leadership, 1910–1966. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997. An important local study that demonstrates the NAACP's roots in the larger black community of the urban North.
- Ross, Barbara Joyce. J. E. Spingarn and the Rise of the NAACP, 1911–1939. New York: Atheneum, 1972. Explores the role of an important early white NAACP leader.
- Tushnet, Mark V. Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936–1961. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. The first part of a two-volume biography of the eminent black lawyer, dealing with Marshall's role as the architect of the NAACP's legal strategy.
- Tushnet, Mark V. The NAACP's Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925–1950. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Analyzes the legal problems and approaches of the NAACP lawyers in fighting segregation.
- Watson, Denton. Lion in the Lobby: Clarence Mitchell, Jr.'s Struggle for the Passage of Civil Rights Laws. New York: Morrow, 1990. A biography of the NAACP chief lobbyist.
- White, Walter. A Man Called White: The Autobiography of Walter White (1948). Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. Memoirs of the longtime NAACP executive secretary.
- Wilkins, Roy, with Tom Matthews. Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (1982). New York: Da Capo, 1994. Memoirs of the longtime NAACP executive secretary.
- Wilson, Sondra Kathryn. The “Crisis” Reader: Stories, Poetry, and Essays from the N.A.A.C.P.'s “Crisis” Magazine. New York: Modern Library, 1999. A selection of contributions to the NAACP's official publication.
- Zangrando, Robert L. The NAACP Crusade against Lynching, 1909–1950. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980. A detailed account of the NAACP's struggle for a federal bill.
- Plessy v. Ferguson and Segregation
- Amenia Conferences
- Anticommunism and Civil Rights
- Antilynching Campaign
- Brown v. Board of Education
- Civil Rights
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Civil Rights Movement
- Communism and African Americans
- Crisis, The: A Record Of The Darker Races
- Desegregation and Integration
- Disfranchisement of African Americans
- Jim Crow Laws
- Laws and Legislation
- Legal Profession
- Lynching and Mob Violence
- Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada
- NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- National Negro Conference
- Niagara Movement
- Plessy v. Ferguson
- Political Participation
- Race Riots in the United States
- Riots and Rebellions
- Supreme Court
- Violence Against African Americans
- Voting Rights Act
- Washington–Du Bois Conflict