Patricia Sullivan has provided the reader with a very important book in US history re: the NAACP. Usually, in the teaching of US history, students learn that the NAACP was founded in 1909 and that W.E.B. DuBois was an active part in its history. That and some of the recent Supreme Court Cases, especially Brown, is often times, all that they learn. This "fortune cookie" approach to knowledge of the NAACP has left us, as citizens, without much, if any, understanding of it. After reading Patricia Sullivan's book, I went away from it knowing, once again, how little has been taught about protest and social change in our history.
In this book, we see the struggles of a number of the NAACP leaders, various field workers, and average African American citizens and how all of these groups faced adversity in a number of ways including encountering threats by KKK; losing significant court cases; trying repeatedly to get a law on anti-lynching or on the illegality of residential requirements for voting through the Congress and/ or the Courts.
Sullivan takes us on the journey from the founding of the NAACP in 1909 through the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, WWI, Great Migration to the North, two world wars, the Great Depression, the New Deal, the school cases that culminate in Brown Decision and the impact of that decision laying the foundation of the modern Civil Rights Movement. It is an amazing journey. We become knowledgeable of the rampant lynching that occurred and yet, no federal anti-lynching legislation could be passed. "Less than 20 percent of the victims had been accused of rape puncturing a popular mythology regarding the `defense of white southern womanhood.'" (p. 75, Sullivan) She provides the history of a number of cases re: the treatment of American soldiers at home during and after both wars; the exclusion of African-Americans from many of the New Deal jobs and more than anything, she provides us with the history of black persistence and dedication to making things right.
I learned about Clarence Darrow and his commitment to the NAACP legal cases; Truman and his push, as Chief Executive, for Civil Rights however, much of his program got waylaid with the Cold War rhetoric and reactions; the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston and Robert Carter along with well known figures such as Thurgood Marshall and WEB DuBois. The chapter on Scottsboro and the role of the Communist Party was so interesting and again, taught me much more about the landscape of the thirties. The NAACP was and is dedicated to a number of legal issues including the work on equalization of wages for teachers; and in investigating legal wrongdoings against African Americans throughout the US. All of this work was done with limited or no funding. I was so impressed with the field workers of the NAACP and the tireless hours that they gave to this frustrating, dangerous, but most important work.
It is a good read and a necessary one for every person to better understand US history as a more complete story but also for each of us to step back and reflect on the dedication of the people, who came before us, both white and black, and their courage in fighting for the rights given in the US Constitution that we, often times, take for granted