Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday NAACP!

Today is Lincoln's birthday. It's also the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the most important organizations in our country's history. I'm going to refer you to the Miami Harold's Leonard Pitts, Jr., who has a fantastic column on the subject today:

The Movement, which held a subsequent meeting at Harper's Ferry, W. Va., issued a statement that said in part, ''We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America.'' But the movement, hampered by various difficulties, soon sputtered and became inactive.

Then the riot came.

For six days in August 1908, a mob of white people surged through the streets of Springfield, Ill., lynching and maiming black people at will and at whim. The irony of this happening in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, earnestly if somewhat simplistically revered as the Great Emancipator, was lost on no one, the rioters least of all. ''Lincoln freed you, we'll show you your place,'' they cried as they flogged black people through the streets.

The appalling spectacle energized white liberals like Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard. On Lincoln's 100th birthday, Feb. 12, 1909, they joined with DuBois and other remnants of the Niagara Movement to issue a call for a conference on race.

That call -- a century ago Thursday -- was the birth certificate of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Lincoln may have emancipated the slaves, but it is the work of organizations like the NAACP that continue to work toward freedom.

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