The National Association For the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on February 12, 1909. The NAACP is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States. With over half a million members, the NAACP works toward equal opportunities among their communities. As part of the story of religion in St. Louis, the NAACP is a national organization with local ties, efforts, and significance.
In 1908 there was a race riot in Springfield, Illinois, and lynching was still a common occurrence around the world targeting people of color. Due to these horrific forms of violence towards black people, black and white liberals called for a meeting to discuss racial and social justice. Among these early organizers were Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, who were both descendants of abolitionists. Around sixty people--black and white, men and women--signed the call to take action against the people inflicting this pain on others. Some of these members were the African American activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the white social reformer Jane Addams.
The NAACP was founded shortly after this outbreak of violence with the goal of securing the rights guaranteed in the Constitution to all people. The objective was to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of the United States and also eliminate race prejudice. Throughout the twentieth century, the NAACP combined a mission of lobbying for legislative reform with a robust program in public education, including a highly visible campaign against lynching through the 1940s. More than a century after its founding, the NAACP continues to work toward removing racial discrimination and barriers through the democratic process.
The NAACP national office is located in New York City, where it has been since the first president, Moorfield Storey, was named in 1910. The only African American on the executive board at the time of the founding was W.E.B. Du Bois, who was director of publication and research. Du Bois was the prominent black intellectual at the time. In 1910 Du Bois established The Crisis, which is the organization’s official journal. Since its founding, the organization has grown to having a chapter in every state and has been making a positive impact on the rest of the world.
The NAACP is still very important today. In the past the main focus was fighting for voting rights for black citizens as well as desegregating schools. In today’s racial climate, the NAACP has to question what their priorities should be going forward. We just finished the era of our first black president and schools are no longer legally segregated. Legally people of color have equal rights. However, these equal rights are not always practiced. Therefore, the NAACP’s focus on legal equality has shifted to a focus on social equality, and furthermore legal equality. The NAACP has also grown in numbers with chapters all over the country,
From its founding, the social and political objectives of the NAACP have been informed by moral and religious influences. Many Protestants and Catholics pride themselves in fighting for social justice, and the NAACP was founded during a period of morally-charged social reform. The NAACP is an organization centered around social justice. Many of their leaders are pastors and ministers, most of their members are Christian according to their website, and the NAACP has beliefs that align with Christianity. For example, a belief that aligns with both is that all humans should have the same equal rights and we all deserve the same amount of respect. The NAACP prides themselves on fighting for social justice and that is what many Catholic Christians believe in: social justice and equality for all. They complement each other where Christians who are part of the NAACP help blend their beliefs with the NAACP’s. The Christian and NAACP values together create a force of positivity and strong leadership. When it comes to incorporating theology with social justice, justicemail.org states “Seeking justice is absolutely central to Christian faith. Christians cannot escape participating in politics because seeking justice and the common good are absolutely central to their faith.” Basically this quote is stating that Christian beliefs and teachings call them to make sure justice is served for everyone. Without people of faith being called to do so, the NAACP would be a lot smaller when it came to members. Christians are called by Jesus to do his work on earth by helping others in times of need. There are also members of the NAACP who are not Christian and affiliate with different religions or none at all. These people still feel called to fight for justice for the people of the world today. The goals of the NAACP don’t target just people of religious backgrounds, they ask for help from anyone who wants to create a better and fair world.
When it comes to the NAACP in Saint Louis, their website talks about a couple of specific goals they have been working on since 2014. A generalization of those goals are policy standards that support a goal of effective law enforcement in all communities, better schools, and a fair chance for all Americans in any opportunity they seize. Just days after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the Saint Louis County NAACP held a town hall meeting at Murchison Tabernacle C.M.E. Church in Normandy to discuss the shooting and its unfolding aftermath. Local chapters of the NAACP in Saint Louis enable people to donate to their cause, join the organization, and even attend events to celebrate the people who helped get this organization up and running. After the Ferguson events the people of the NAACP really kicked it into high gear and wanted to get more people aware and involved in the community to help.
A big part of the NAACP fighting for social justice includes fighting for the black community. In Saint Louis, black Catholics are very present in the area. The St. Louis Review published a 2015 open letter about race and the Church that focused on recent turmoil and police violence. Bishop Edward Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, and a writer on theological matters and pastoral topics, has become an important voice in the Catholic Church about matters of racial justice. In the open letter, Bishop Braxton asks people to listen, learn, think, pray, and act on the issue of racial equality. The Black Lives Matter movement is growing each and every day and the NAACP definitely supports it. The large presence of black Catholics in the Saint Louis area helps the NAACP get support to fight for equal rights for all.
Research and writing by Teriana Crowley, Francesco Moro, and Gianna Parise.