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“The NAACP has taken the leadership in forging the law into an instrument of social precision… You have developed a sharp and polished tool. This tool is showing the world how to accomplish a legal revolution without bloodshed.”

This praise for the NAACP was made by James B. Carey of the Congress of Industrial Organizations when the NAACP convened in 1954 in Dallas, Texas, for its 55th national convention. At that meeting, the NAACP was just one month removed from its landmark victory in the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case. Not surprisingly, much of the convention was devoted to celebrating the Brown victory.

As we saw in Part 1 of this post, the NAACP annual conventions served many important purposes for the NAACP. Two of the most important functions were setting policy for the NAACP and attracting publicity for the organization. One aspect of the conventions that accomplished both of these purposes was the speeches by major NAACP leaders and other prominent figures. Speakers at the conventions typically addressed the most pressing issues facing the NAACP and the country.

In 1919, on the tenth anniversary of the NAACP, W. E. B. DuBois, a founding member of the NAACP and the editor of The Crisis, spoke about the importance of voting rights. Du Bois felt the right to vote would have an impact on education, another important concern of the NAACP. Du Bois told the 1919 convention participants: “The world wants the ballot because it wants certain things and we American Negroes are determined to have the ballot particularly for one great thing, and that is for the education of our children.” [ProQuest History Vault, NAACP Papers, Accession ID# 001412-008-0447]

In 1942, the NAACP met in Los Angeles, California. The featured speakers were Roy Wilkins, Malcolm S. MacLean, E. Frederic Morrow, Walter White, Norman Houston, Daisy E. Lampkin, Lal Singh, George A. Beavers Jr., and Culbert L. Olson. A major theme of the 1942 speeches was the world war as well as the defense effort in the United States. Malcolm S. MacLean, for example, spoke about the Fair Employment Practices Committee, while E. Frederic Morrow and NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White talked about fighting for democracy both at home and overseas. In his closing remarks, White spoke of the NAACP’s determination “to make this a better world not for Negroes alone but for all human beings.” [ProQuest History Vault, NAACP Papers, Accession ID#001412-011-0132]

When the NAACP gathered for its national convention in 1964, the NAACP and all civil rights advocates were on the cusp of a major victory—the passage of civil rights legislation that would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations and public facilities, in employment, and in public education. Not surprisingly, most of the 1964 convention speeches focused on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which President Lyndon B. Johnson would sign into law on July 2, 1964. Among the speakers at the 1964 convention was Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey. Here is an excerpt from Humphrey’s remarks:

 Following the urban riots of 1967 and the widespread rioting that occurred after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, the 1968 NAACP convention in Atlantic City focused on the theme of extending NAACP programs to urban ghettos and developing political and economic power in these areas. At the opening session of the convention, NAACP board chairman Stephen Gill Spottswood used his keynote address to reaffirm the NAACP’s traditional commitments and to argue that the NAACP continued to be relevant to the hopes and aspirations of the majority of African Americans. Spottswood declared:

He continued: “We are for the strengthening of the ghetto but not for the development of the ghetto-state…We speak for the vast, though little publicized, majority of Negro Americans… Inclusion is their goal, not exclusion.” Other speakers at the 1968 convention offered their perspectives on the “urban crisis.” Vivian Henderson, president of Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia, centered her remarks on the importance of employment, arguing that employment was the best way to positively impact the lives of the residents of America’s central cities. Julian Bond, a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader and in 1968 a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, stressed the need for unity among African Americans and the importance of political power.

These examples from the speeches at the NAACP conventions give just a taste of the riches that await researchers in the NAACP Papers.

See our Black history milestones timeline. Librarians: sign up for free trials of the NAACP Papers and an array of complementary digitized resources with content that isn’t available anywhere else.

19 Feb 2014 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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