The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is 100 years old today.
Forty-three year’s ago, its Chicago Westside Branch began, continuing at the local level what the national NAACP started in 1909.
“Well, we’ve been around for 100 years; what that means to me is that we’re still around and functioning,” said Karl Brinson, president of the Westside Branch NAACP.
Brinson succeeded Vera Davis, the organization’s former president and now an executive committee chair for the group. A life-long Austin resident and community activist, Brinson became a member of the organization in 2002. In 2006, due to her increasingly packed schedule, Davis, wife of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (7th), stepped down as president. She was a member of the Westside Branch since its inception, Sept. 12, 1966.
The group’s first president and vice president were Rev. Edgar Thornton and Luster Jackson, but community activists Mattie Moore and Nola Bright were the organization’s leaders through most of its years. Bright retired in 2000 and turned over the reigns of leadership to Davis.
“I knew Nola very well and she chose me to be her successor because I had been president of my Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority as a graduate student at Chicago State University and she felt this gave me the experience necessary for this challenging role,” Davis said.
The national NAACP roots date back to 1905 when a group of prominent black leaders got together to discuss forming an organization to tackle segregation and racial inequalities toward blacks. Because they were barred from meeting in hotels in the United States, the group, led by scholar and activist W.E.B. Dubois, met in a hotel in Canada near Niagara Falls. They would become known as the Niagara Movement.
By 1909, the group decided to expand its focus and increase its membership to include whites. The 1908 race riot in Springfield, Ill. was a key event cited by members in launching a more effective national civil rights organization. They hosted a meeting on Feb. 12 of that year to form what would become the NAACP. They chose that date to coincide with Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday.
But of all the acts championed by the NAACP – from fighting Jim Crow laws in the South to protecting voting rights for blacks – Brinson said the group’s role in the landmark 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which ruled racial segregation in U.S. schools unequal, was one of its biggest victories.
“In the last 100 years, we’ve won battles in the war, but we have yet to win the war,” he said. “Certainly, the results of the election last Nov. 4 show that we have a lot to be optimistic about, but we want there to be a point where it is not a unique occurrence to see an African-American in a position of power and prestige.”
Brinson maintained there’s more work to done for the civil rights organization. The Westside Branch, he added, is working to improve schools on the West Side and address the high incarnation rate of blacks.
As for the organization’s future, Brinson said, “There are people who would love to see it go away, either because they don’t want to have to respond to questions of injustice or, like myself, would like it to go away because that means we have finally accomplished our ultimate goal of no longer being necessary to ensure equal rights to people of color. I think the longevity of this organization is a testament to the commitment and dedication of its leaders…We still have a way to go before equality is truly achieved.”
Terry Dean contributed to this article.