Racial Equality Organizations

In an effort to combat the forces of racial prejudice and hate, W.E.B. Du Bois and others founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The NAACP’s stated goal was to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. It believed that the cause of the African-American was best advanced through protest. The NAACP relied on various public relations tools (speeches, lobbying and other means) to publicize the plight of the Negros under the Jim Crow system. The NAACP also used its legal arm, The NAACP Legal Defense Fund established in 1939, to initiate legal actions that attacked the Jim Crow system. Future United States Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, was one of its primary lawyers. The NAACP waged a 30-year campaign against lynching and other forms of racial injustice.

The NAACP strongly supported the federal Dyer Bill, which would have punished those who participated in or failed to prosecute lynch mobs. Though the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate never passed the bill. Despite the fact that President Franklin Roosevelt and, more particularly, his wife, Eleanor, were sympathetic to the black cause (refer to Josh White’s visit to the White House above), the President did not use his political influence in support of the anti-lynching bill because he did not want to offend Southern Democrats, who he needed to support the New Deal legislation. (Rob. Cohen, p. 205; Foner and Garraty, The Reader’s Companion to American History, pp. 684-86)

In 1919, the NAACP proclaimed “Lift Every Voice and Sing, written by brothers James W. Johnson and John R. Johnson (1900), as the “Negro National Anthem.” (Routledge, Burton W. Peretti, Signifying Freedom, Protest in Nineteenth-Century African American Music, p. 4.)     (http://youtu.be/ya7Bn7kPkLo)

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
let our rejoicing rise,
high as the list’ning skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea
sing a song full of faith that the dark past has tought us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chast’ning rod,
felt in the day that hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet,
come to the place on witch our fathers sighed?
we have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
thou who has by thy might,
led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray
lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
least our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
shadowed beneath the hand,
may we forever stand,
true to our God,
True to our native land.

Other civil rights groups, many advocating direct mass action instead of the legal strategies pioneered by the NAACP, were organized, including the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). These four groups, including the NAACP, were known as “The Big Four” of the Civil Rights Movement.

CORE was founded by students on the University of Chicago campus in 1942 as an outgrowth of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation. Among its founders were James Farmer, Bernice Fisher and George Houser. CORE’s founders were greatly influenced by the nonviolence teachings of Gandhi. Its philosophy was the idea of achieving change through nonviolence. CORE’s membership was largely white and middle class. CORE utilized passive, direct action tactics such as the sit-in, the jail-in, boycotts, picket lines and freedom rides. (The History of CORE, http://www.core-online.org/History/history.htm)

Initially, CORE was primarily active in the North; it did not extend its activities into the South until the mid-1950s. In April of 1947, CORE sent eight black men and eight white men on busses into North Carolina to test a recent United States Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation on interstate transportation. As a result, several of the bus riders were arrested and forced to work on a chain gang. (Id.) This bus trip is referred to as “The Journey of Reconciliation.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/freedomriders/people/roster/)

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed in February 1957 by Rev. Martin Luther King and other southern black ministers. Martin Luther King was the leader of SCLC from its founding until his assassination in 1968. SCLC’s objective was to advance the cause of civil rights in America in a non-violent manner by direct action. Dr. King often clashed with the NAACP regarding tactics and strategy. As its title suggests, support and leadership for the SCLC came primarily from black churches. The church, generally, played a major part in the lives of African-Americans in the South and church leaders played a significant role in each black community in all parts of the South. Thus, the churches were where activists met and planned desegregationist activities and were targets of the white segregationist reactions. (“Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” www.HistoryLearningSite.co.uk 2014.)

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in April 1960, by young college students, James Forman, Bob Moses, Ella Baker and Marion Barry, who had emerged as leaders of the sit-in protest movement initiated on February 1 of that year by four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina. They jealously guarded their independence from the other “Big Four” groups, believing that those organizations were mired in the policies and practices of the past. Nonetheless, SNCC adopted non-violence as an essential modus operandi. (Jennings and Brewster, p. 378.)

The student leaders of SNCC continued the Freedom Riders movement in 1961 after CORE sponsored riders were attacked by violent segregationists in Alabama. SNCC also became involved in the voter’s rights registration protests in southern states in the early to mid-1960s. In 1966, Stokely Carmichael was elected Chairman of SNCC and began to take the organization in a more militant direction. (The Reader’s Digest Companion to American History; http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_student_nonviolent_coordinating_committee)_sncc/)