National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has had an unbroken presence in Georgia
In February 1909 future NAACP organizers issued "The Call," a statement protesting lawlessness against Negroes, and began forming the
Beginning in January 1917 and up until June 1920, branches were organized in communities around Georgia, including Albany, Americus, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Brunswick, Columbus, Cordele, Dublin, Macon, Milledgeville, Rome, Savannah, Thomasville, Valdosta, and Waycross. Many of the earliest branch members came from the professional class of physicians, dentists, businessmen, teachers, and ministers. Established black newspapers in Atlanta, Rome, and Savannah carried NAACP news releases, and these cities hosted successful early locals that focused primarily on educational improvements for the black community.
In most black schools in Georgia's cities and towns, teachers were expected to teach twice the number of students per day as those in the white schools. In two separate shifts, one in the morning and early afternoon and one from afternoon into the evening, these overworked and underpaid black educators taught shortened lessons to two sets of large classes. Efforts for elimination of these "double sessions" and the addition of seventh grade and above in African American schools provided an early focus for branches in Georgia's cities.
During World War I (1917-18), when many men and women left their communities for military service, shortages of laborers and domestic workers occurred. Black men and women who were self-employed or homemakers were under extreme pressure to work for whites. Many southern communities passed local laws that required all black people to work outside of their own households. Black communities organized to protest these "work or fight laws," and their efforts often led to the formation of NAACP branches. Destitute farmers and other rural laborers found it difficult to form branches of the association because of the requirement that fifty people pay one dollar each to receive a charter. Threats of violence against local activists also made organization in rural counties almost impossible at this early stage.
In the immediate post–World War I years, Atlanta served as a refuge for black Georgians who fled from oppressive violence and peonage in rural parts of the state, and the NAACP branch in the capital often provided refugees legal and financial assistance. But after the national NAACP held its 1920 annual conference in Atlanta, the publicity it received triggered a backlash that hurt the Atlanta branch and virtually paralyzed most branches throughout the state for the next two decades. Only five branches—at Fort Valley, Griffin, Hawkinsville, Monroe, and Newnan—formed during the 1920s.
1945 to the Present
NAACP Georgia branch numbers swelled to fifty-five in the year immediately after World War II. The demise of the white-only primary in Georgia (King v. Chapman et al., 1945) gave impetus to statewide voter-registration campaigns. Many whites reacted with violence and hostility to black registration and voting. This volatile political climate prevented rapid progress on voting rights and over time caused the number of NAACP branches to shrink to less than twenty in the early 1950s. State and local leadership under Governor Herman Talmadge was extremely hostile toward the organization, and violence and economic reprisals against NAACP members were common.
The dominant Georgia branches in the 1950s were in Savannah and Atlanta. The Reverend Ralph Mark Gilbert
In the 1960s hostility from white Georgia politicians against the NAACP hindered the organization's growth. Other civil rights organizations came to play a new and complementary role in the African American freedom struggle. The direct action protest of other civil rights groups in the 1960s afforded many youth members and admirers of the NAACP opportunities for leadership and activism.
An influential group that formed its headquarters in Atlanta was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Activist Ella Baker called together black southern ministers in 1957 to organize an umbrella group to coordinate the efforts of existing local organizations in urban areas of the South. SCLC's charismatic leaders, the most famous of whom was Martin Luther King Jr., helped motivate the masses of black people to participate in marches, boycotts, and other direct protests at the local and even state and national levels. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a southern organization committed to a nonviolent but direct approach to protesting discrimination. They targeted the most strife-torn areas of the South and lived in communities, helping to educate black people about their rights and to cultivate indigenous leadership. One of the areas in which SNCC worked diligently to protest discrimination was in southwest Georgia around Albany.
CORE, or the Congress of Racial Equality, formed in Chicago in 1942 as an interracial organization focused on social justice. Its methods were strictly nonviolent, and its leadership style was democratic. In the 1960s it sponsored numerous projects in the South to test discriminatory laws that clearly represented conflicts between federal and state statutes, such as the segregation of interstate buses and bus stations.
All of these groups increased pressure on local, state, and federal government to recognize racial equality. The pro-NAACP lawyers in Georgia, including Atlantan Donald Hollowell, remained very involved in the legal aspects of promoting anti-discrimination laws, while branch members throughout the state stayed directly engaged in protest and organization. The passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965) eliminated legal discrimination in the public sphere.
Many black Georgians joined the NAACP in the years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968. Robert Flanagan of Atlanta, the state's field director in those years, reported a new sense of fearlessness and activism, especially in the smaller towns around the state. Promotion of black voter registration, despite continued intimidation by county registrars in the state, became the focus of NAACP activity. Flanagan went on to become the president of the state conference of branches and to oversee the gradual growth of the organization and the number of black voters registered in the 1970s. The number of black elected officials in Georgia has increased steadily since that period.
More recently the NAACP has focused on discrimination in the private sector, especially where it hinders economic opportunities for minorities. The NAACP branches follow and support the strategic initiatives established by the national board through membership dues and participation in activities at the state and local level. Many of these initiatives are handled by the NAACP legal department, which seeks to press cases, especially class actions, that have broad significance in mitigating discrimination in private businesses and corporations. Voter registration continues to be an important emphasis for the NAACP at the local, state, and national levels. In addition, each local branch provides a contact point for complaints of racial discrimination at the local level, which can then be investigated by the field and branch services of the national organization if necessary.
Robert Flanagan, "Black Involvement in Politics," interview, Georgia Government Documentation Project, Oral History Collection. Special Collections and Archives, Pullen Library, Georgia State University, Atlanta.
Papers of the NAACP: Branch Department Files, Series D, 1956-1965 (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1982), microfilm.
Papers of the NAACP: Part 12: Selected Branch Files, Series A, 1913-1939 (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1982), microfilm.
Mary Gambrell Rolinson, "Community and Leadership in the First Twenty Years of the Atlanta NAACP, 1917-1937," Atlanta History 42, no. 3 (1998): 5-21.
Stephen G. N. Tuck, Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle for Racial Equality in Georgia, 1940-1980 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001).
Mary G. Rolinson, Georgia Perimeter College
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