The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is an important civil rights organization founded in the final months of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. The organization was created in 1909, partially in response to the 1908 race riot in Springfield, Illinois. A group of more than fifty white leaders, including Oswald Garrison Villard, Florence Kelley, and Mary White Ovington, along with African-American leaders, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida Wells-Barnett, issued a call to form the organization on Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday, February 12, 1909. The goal of the NAACP was to advocate for the rights of African Americans, to promote racial equality, and to eliminate racial discrimination.
To achieve its goals the NAACP founded The Crisis, the organization’s official journal. The NAACP also took its struggles to the courts, helping to defeat the passage of unfair labor bills in the Kansas and Illinois legislatures in 1913. In 1915, the NAACP won the Supreme Court case Guinn v. United States, overturning a discriminatory voting law in Oklahoma and affecting similar laws in other Southern states. In part because of its early successes, the new organization grew rapidly. Over 300 branches were founded by 1919 with a total membership of approximately 90,000. Racial discrimination and bigotry were endemic in the United States, and belonging to a group that publicly challenged long-held social and legal codes took extraordinary courage.
The NAACP supported Roosevelt’s Progressive presidential bid in 1912. Several of those who came together at the earliest NAACP meetings felt Roosevelt’s platform encapsulated many tenets of their life’s work, including Jane Addams (who seconded Roosevelt’s nomination in Chicago in 1912), Lillian Wald, Mary McDowell, Henry Moskowitz, John Dewey, John Milholland, and chairman of the NAACP board of directors, Joel Springarn. Springarn served as a delegate to both the 1912 and 1916 Progressive Party conventions. The Crisis editor W. E. B. Du Bois briefly supported Roosevelt’s 1912 efforts. When Roosevelt died in 1919, The Crisis published a glowing eulogy about him.
The NAACP spearheaded anti-lynching campaigns and led the legal charge that culminated in the victories of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It continues to work actively for racial equality today.