This post is by Caneisha Mills, the 2022-2023 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.
“How much longer do I have to wait to get the things that a long time ago were taken from me and are, by right, mine?”
Alphonso Lee, Montgomery County Lifetime NAACP Member, 1963
Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is an organization that addresses questions such as that asked by Alphonso Lee. In classrooms, its history is often combined with other notable organizations, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Urban League, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
Historic newspapers can help teachers expand student understanding of the NAACP and its achievements for all people by placing emphasis on its anti-lynching campaign, advocacy for quality education, employment opportunities, and celebration of the achievements of African Americans.
A 1963 article, “Lee at 80 Looks Back on Years of Fighting,” highlights the work of Alphonso Lee, former president of the Montgomery County, Maryland, chapter and lifetime member of the NAACP. His membership in the NAACP coincided with the founding of the organization, chartering of a local branch in Montgomery County, and fighting for the struggle for equal pay for African American teachers.
The NAACP was formed at a time when the mainstream press did not adequately cover attacks on the African American community. Lynching had spread across the country. In 1918, Missouri Congressman Leonidas Dyer introduced an anti-lynching bill, but it was not widely publicized or supported. After withholding its initial support, in 1922 the NAACP placed a full page advertisement in several national newspapers encouraging Americans to support the bill. The NAACP used the press to reach a wide audience and raise national consciousness about lynching, calling it “The Shame of America.”
African American newspapers were also used to communicate with those not residing in the local communities about the work of the NAACP nationally. For example, African Americans were encouraged to alert the NAACP to instances of discrimination. In 1926, one family, in conjunction with the National Urban League, sought help after being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan for the purchase of a home in Jamaica, Long Island. While this occurred in New York, the article was published in The Broad Ax, an African American newspaper in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Inform students that they will learn some of the history of the NAACP by exploring newspapers. Pique their interest by reading and discussing the articles on Lee and the homeowners in Jamaica, Long Island. What questions do they have about the NAACP and its work?
Using Chronicling America, direct students to search the term “NAACP” between 1910 and 1963 in your state. (Review search techniques as needed.) Next, ask students to search the term “National Association Advancement Colored People” for the same time period. Encourage students to read the “About” page of different newspapers, which provides details related to the founding, ownership, and political leanings of newspaper publishers. Next, begin a class discussion by asking students:
- How do the results from various searches compare?
- What did you notice about news coverage of the NAACP in historic newspapers?
- How was the NAACP covered differently in African American and non-African American newspapers?
- Why do you believe many newspapers did not cover the work of the NAACP?
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