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75 years ago, in 1939, the NAACP gathered for its 30th annual convention in Richmond, Virginia.
At that meeting, the assembled delegates declared “we extend our sympathies to all other minority groups who at this time are being violated physically, or losing their civil rights because of their race, color, or creed; we condemn especially the treatment of the Jews under Fascism and Nazism.” This resolution, as well as the other resolutions passed during the 1939 convention on lynching, discrimination in the armed forces, education, housing, and employment, were fully consistent with the vision that the NAACP had worked for since its founding.
The vision of the National Association for the Advancement of Color People, NAACP, formed in 1909, is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.
Of the many great sets of documents in the NAACP Papers collection in ProQuest History Vault, the records of the NAACP annual conventions are particularly interesting and offer many excellent research opportunities.
NAACP annual conventions served a number of important functions. First, the NAACP used the annual convention to set the policy and legislative agenda of the association for the year. This function was carried out primarily through the passing of resolutions. This makes the resolutions an important source for understanding NAACP policy. Speeches by major NAACP leaders and other prominent figures played a role in setting NAACP policy. The speeches also proved to be a very good way to attract publicity for the association, and attracting publicity was a second major purpose of the conventions. Special events, such as testimonial banquets, protests, or commemorative gatherings were sometimes scheduled during conventions and helped attract additional publicity for the NAACP.
Another important function of the convention was to afford regular personal contact between the national office and the NAACP branches. Several sessions of every convention were devoted to "workshops" in which national officers instructed delegates in such things as fund raising, local branch administration, and initiating civil rights litigation at the local level. The printing of the conference program was another good way for the national NAACP to interact with the local community. The NAACP often placed pictures of its national leaders and descriptions of NAACP activity in the conference program. The two images below are from the 1944 conference program:
The NAACP Papers collection in ProQuest History Vault includes coverage of NAACP conventions between 1910 and 1970. One interesting project for researchers could be to compare the resolutions over time. In 1910, at its first major meeting after forming in 1909 as the National Negro Committee, the name National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was adopted, with a goal to secure “equal rights and opportunities for all.” The new National Association “is to be composed of a National Committee of 100, with an Executive Committee of 30 members, 15 resident in New York and 15 resident elsewhere; with an auxiliary membership … [of dues paying members].” Those assembled also decided that the headquarters of the NAACP would be in New York City and they decided on the leadership positions for the organization.
In 1914, as the NAACP celebrated its fifth anniversary, it passed resolutions on the “Negro press” and education. The resolution on the “Negro press” was particularly sharply worded:
Twenty years later, the NAACP celebrated its 25th anniversary amidst the economic crisis of the Great Depression. The resolutions passed at the 1934 annual convention reflected these difficult economic conditions. Here is the introductory portion of the 1934 resolutions:
Following these introductory remarks, the NAACP passed specific resolutions on mob violence, the National Recovery Administration, the federal farm program, household employees and domestic workers, segregation, the Scottsboro cases, voting rights, and support for “oppressed peoples” around the world.
Thirteen years later, in 1947, the NAACP passed a key resolution on school desegregation that led eventually to the association’s landmark victory in the Brown v. Board of Education case. In one of the 1947 resolutions, the NAACP declared its opposition to “dual school systems” and its intention to pursue desegregation of schools. [For more on the NAACP and the Brown v. Board of Education case, see our February 11 blog entry.]
At the 1968 convention, the NAACP passed resolutions on a wide variety of important issues. These included the Poor People’s Campaign, implementation of the 1968 civil rights law, the Kerner Commission report on riots, draft laws, consumer protection, public welfare and poverty programs, school desegregation and school busing, the Vietnam War, discrimination in housing, and participation in the 1968 Olympics.
The examples presented here are just a few of the very interesting resolutions passed at NAACP conventions and reflect the evolution of the NAACP as an organization between 1910 and 1970.
Learn more about the History Vault NAACP Papers and see our Black history milestones timeline. Librarians, sign up for a free trial of History Vault and other complementary digitized resources with content that isn’t available anywhere else.
And, for more information on NAACP Annual Conventions, please look for Part 2 of this post, focusing on convention speeches.