The NAACP at 100

, Allan C. Brownfield, Leave a comment

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
celebrated its l00th birthday on February l2.

Its creation was stimulated by the race riots that swept through
Springfield, Illinois, in the summer of l908. The quiet removal
of two black men who had been in prison as suspects in two separate
attacks on white people enraged the members of the white community. They
took out their anger on black residents and black-owned businesses
and properties in riots that lasted two days. Seven people were
killed and some $200,000 worth of damage was done. The following
February, a group of white and black activists met in New York to found
the NAACP, whose aim was to ensure “the political, educational,
social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate
racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

The NAACP played a leading role in bringing down racial barriers,
notably in overturning Jim Crow laws in the South and in its work on
the l954 case of Brown v. Board of Education, which brought about the
desegregation of schools.

Now, after the triumphs of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, with
black Americans in leadership roles in every area of our society, including
the White House, many are questioning the relevance in 2009 of the

The election of Barack Obama to the presidency and the problems that
still confront many black Americans encapsulate “a moment of
confusion in the black community,” says Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.,
a professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. “How
are we to continue to talk about how race and racism determine the
life chances of Americans in the context of a black man holding the
presidency in his hands? We can look at the NAACP as a kind of
petri dish for answering that question.”

Benjamin Jealous, who recently took over as the NAACP’s youngest
president, argues that, “There are still a lot of things to be
angry about. Young black people in the U.S. are the most incarcerated
people in the world. They understand, by virtue of their situation
and that of their peers, that the movement for civil rights in this
country is very much needed, and groups that played critical roles
in removing the shackles that bound our forefathers and foremothers
still play a role today.”

There is, however, a big difference between pointing out that black
Americans still face serious problems — and declaring that “racism” is
the cause of such problems and that a renewed “civil rights” crusade
would represent a step toward their solution.

the l960s, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), then assistant secretary
of labor, produced a report entitled “The Negro Family: The Case
For National Action.” He found that a quarter of black children
were born to unmarried women and the percentage was rising. Today,
among non-Hispanic blacks, the out-of-wedlock birth rate has reached
69.5 percent. A study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University
and the Urban Institute concluded that only 50 percent of black students
graduate from high school. For male students, the figures are
even worse. Only 43 percent of black males graduate.

It is not white “racism” that is responsible for this
situation. Professor Orlando Patterson, a sociologist at Harvard,
says that it is a culture of self-destructiveness that is holding black
men back. According to Patterson, a so-called “cool-pose
culture” that includes “hanging out in the street, dressing
sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music” is just
too gratifying to give up.

Another respected black commentator, John McWhorter, a senior fellow
at the Manhattan Institute, writes in Winning
The Race: Beyond The Crisis In Black America
that, “In poor black Chicago in the l920s,
it was considered alarming that just l5 percent of babies were born
out of wedlock. By the late seventies, a whole generation of black
people had grown up in neighborhoods where it was peculiar if a baby
was born to a married couple, women living on the government was the
norm, and young men had no reason to take care of the children they

“A major difference between then and now is the sense among
many black teens that doing well in school is culturally inauthentic, ‘acting
white.’ This only became common coin among young blacks in the
late l960s, as the national mood embraced an especially open misidentification
with the Establishment…”    

In the years of segregation, the black family was intact. Its
disintegration can hardly be called the result of “white racism,” since
that decline accelerated during the period of racism’s most dramatic
decline. McWhorter asks: “Why did we not have the inner-city
plagues so familiar to us when the best that all but a few blacks could
expect was menial labor, whites were hanging black men from trees on
a regular basis, and the police — or even just a gang of ‘hooligans’ —
could beat a black person senseless without it even making the
papers…. It must stop being considered ‘controversial’ to
acknowledge that cultural change played a central role here.”

NAACP’s Benjamin Jealous says that, “There are still a
lot of things to be angry about.” He cites the incarceration
rate of young black people. He points to unemployment statistics
for black Americans — before the recent dramatic downturn — at l2.6
percent compared with 6.9 percent for white Americans. Their life
expectancy is five years less, and black infant mortality rates are
twice the national average.

Jealous may be correct in being angry. He should point his anger
to the real causes of these statistical disparities, which are not “white
racism,” but the decline and disintegration of values within
the black community itself.  The doors of opportunity are open. There
are no more glass ceilings. But to walk through those doors, we
need intact families and a commitment to education and hard work.

Woodson, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise,
points out that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the highest form
of maturity is the willingness to be self-critical. “Unfortunately,” says
Woodson, “we seem to only be willing to talk about race when
whites are portrayed as villains and blacks as victims. Those
of us who have been active in the civil rights movement must move beyond
these limited confines, and lead an honest dialogue that confronts
some of the troubling questions, past and present, that are internal
to the black community…. The emphasis on race is overshadowing the
fact that increasing numbers of our children are being lost in a frenzy
of self-destruction….”

NAACP Board Chairman Myrlie Evers-Williams, who was married to the
slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, declares:  “We’ve
got to rise to the occasion today. We cannot continue to sing ‘We
Shall Overcome.’ It is a dear, valuable song that expresses
a time that should live within us. But I want a new song.”

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Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing
editor to such publications as Human Events,
The St. Croix Review,
and The Washington Report on Middle
East Affairs.