More than a century ago, W.E.B. Dubois predicted “the color line” would be the problem of the 20th century.
This week as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) kicks off its centennial celebration in New York, an African American sits in the White House. That instills pride in many blacks and is a testament to Mr. Dubois, a founding member of the NAACP, and his belief that education and opportunity can open the promise of this nation to anyone, regardless of race.
But a duality persists. President Obama’s election has not erased deep-seated racism in pockets of the nation or the glaring economic inequities that are the legacy of slavery and which prompted the founding of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and most influential civil rights organization.
Almost half of African-American and Latino students don’t finish high school on time. Black unemployment remains twice that of whites. And young blacks with no criminal record are far more often to end up in jail than young whites. That has prompted the NAACP’s leadership to pledge on this 100th anniversary to redouble the organization’s effort to improve education and reform the criminal justice system.
During the last century, the NAACP has been at the forefront of the legal battles against segregation in the military, the federal government, and the nation’s schools. It’s also fought for laws that ensure voting rights and other policies designed to bring about racial and economic equality. But its core mission has always involved increasing educational opportunity, reflecting the way Dubois had seen it.
The leaders of the NAACP contend that Obama’s election has “emboldened and energized” people for that fight for educational and racial equality.
“That is why we intend to start our next 100 years by redoubling our efforts to close the gaps and begin finding solutions that are innovative and tangible in two especially urgent areas: education and criminal justice,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, the current president and CEO of the NAACP wrote in a recent commentary on CNN.com marking the centennial celebration. “There remains much to be done.”