In between [1908 and 2008], wielding legal arguments and moral suasion in equal measure, the NAACP demanded that America provide liberty and justice not only for blacks, but for all. Now, its very achievements have created a daunting modern challenge as the NAACP turns 100 on Thursday: convincing people that the struggle continues.
“When I was in college, I could see signs that said ‘white’ and ‘colored’ when I went to the movie theater. That was an easy target for me to aim at,” says Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP board. “Today, I don’t see those signs, but I know that these divisions still exist . . . and it’s more difficult to convince people that there’s a problem.”
Benjamin Todd Jealous, the new president and CEO of the NAACP, says his greatest obstacle is “the lack of outrage about the ways that young people and working people are routinely mistreated.”
He cites figures such as a 70 percent unsolved murder rate in some black communities, blacks graduating from high school at a far lower rate than whites, and studies showing that whites with criminal records get jobs easier than blacks with clean histories.
The NAACP reached a low point in the early 1990s, when it faced a $4 million deficit. Myrlie Evers-Williams was asked to run for board chairman. She worked tirelessly to raise funds–while not receiving any salary–and is credited with restoring the NAACP to prominence.
In the 1990s, a civil-rights backlash developed from decades of white guilt and new demands for black accountability.
The NAACP now has a $21 million annual budget and 85 full-time employees. There are 525,000 members plus another 225,000 donors; the NAACP’s membership peaked at 625,000 paid members in 1964.
NAACP board member Rev. Amos Brown says that Obama’s election should not obscure that problems still exist.
“If we get caught up in the euphoria of this election and fail to deal with reality,” Brown says, “it’s going to be a short-lived victory.”