Franciscan Spirit Blog

The NAACP: Letting Freedom Ring

Person raising a closed fist in the air

Rosa Parks changed history when she refused to yield her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955. A lesser-known piece of history reveals that one of the motives behind her act was that she was haunted by the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till the year prior. Parks was, simply, fed up.

Till, a 14-year-old Black Chicagoan, was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His mutilated body, unrecognizable even to his mother, coupled with the acquittal of his killers, made headlines the world over.

On hand throughout Rosa Parks’s ordeal, the Emmett Till trial, and countless other chapters in Black history for the last century was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), fearless soldier/citizens committed to defending the most vulnerable. The organization is in its 113th year. But its mission has never aged. With Black History Month now beginning, let’s briefly revisit the organization’s history.

Founded on February 12, 1909, by 60 multiracial activists in New York City, the organization’s principal goal was to improve the lives of Black Americans, many of whom lived under the oppressive Jim Crow laws which legalized and enforced segregation.

The NAACP came into prominence through its own Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Started in 1940 as a wing of the organization, the LDF made headlines in the 1950s after Linda Brown, a Kansas student, was refused admittance to an all-white elementary school. Born from that struggle was the US Supreme Court’s monumental Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

The group has also done epic work with voters’ rights. Despite the 15th Amendment guaranteeing that civil liberty, Black citizens in some states faced scare tactics, literacy tests and poll taxes designed to discourage. The NAACP countered like a general in battle, sending troops to the front lines in the form of trained activists who risked their lives to register Black voters.

Many historians believe the group’s efforts quietly guided President Lyndon Johnson’s hand as he signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. The Black community prevailed that day, but it was the spirit of America that won.

Cry Freedom

The NAACP’s formation in February of 1909 was intended to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday. It’s a fitting connection: Lincoln freed the slaves; this brave group fought to let that freedom ring.

And the fight continues. Today, the organization offers programs dedicated to civic engagement, education, economic empowerment, and training. The NAACP, by encouraging African Americans to realize their own potential, is continuing a legacy that has made the United States stronger, fairer. By focusing on color, the NAACP has helped to make our country see its diverse citizens for who they are: daughters and sons of God.

Perhaps it seeks to prevent ongoing tragedies like Emmett Till. In the wake of his murder, Black citizens in the 1950s were galvanized into action. Donations to the group soared. Volunteering skyrocketed. Like Rosa Parks, people were fed up.

Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of Emmett Till, had this to say of the African Americans who, under the watchful eye of the NAACP, spoke out against the white men who murdered her son and the white establishment that made life for people of color across the country intolerable: “When they saw what had happened to my son, people became vocal who had never vocalized before. People stood up who had never stood up before.”

They have been standing proudly ever since.

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7 thoughts on “The NAACP: Letting Freedom Ring”

  1. I don’t live in the U. S. A., but through the Black experience in the U. S. A., I see two things: The U. S. A. is the Home of the Brave, but it is most certainly not the Land of the Free!

    1. Even though Emmett Till was accused of whistling at a white woman, that doesn’t mean it’s true. Was there another witness to his whistling at the woman? I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t even true. Some may argue that even if it was true, he didn’t deserve to be beaten to death for it. The same can be said for Tyre Nichols who was beaten to death for simply a traffic stop, of all things!

      1. Let me add that from what I’ve heard, Tyre Nichols didn’t even have a criminal record! The real crooks were wearing a police uniform, of all things. Kicking Tyre Nichols in the head when he was down is not professional police behavior. There is no excuse for that that I know of.

  2. Thank you for recognizing the long struggle of our African-American sisters and brothers to achieve freedom and equality. Our Church has often failed to see each of us as equal children of God, causing great pain to our fellow African-American Catholics. I pray that we Catholics can move forward as brothers and sisters and that heroic Black Catholics like Sisters Henriette DeLille and Thea Bowman will join the ranks of saints.

  3. I am pleasantly surprised by this article. I hope and pray that there are future article depicting the achievements and struggles of Black people especially Black Americans and Black Catholics. Unfortunately our church tends to treat us as invisible and will not denounce racism and white nationalism and supremacy. The hierarchy is very vocal in the pro-life movement but little or no action in regards to on-going struggle of racist actions and violence against Black Americans. You cannot be pro-life and turn a blind eye to bigotry, hate, and racism.

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