To what extent was the NAACP responsible for the successes of the civil rights campaign in the years 1945-57?
The NAACP is one of the earliest organisations of activists that wanted to achieve racial equality. They focused on changing the existing laws to stop them favouring white supremacy. They were instrumental in bringing about de jure change which gave black Americans their due rights promised to them by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
One of their landmark cases was Brown v. Board of Topeka which outlawed segregation in public schools. The NAACP tackled segregation in education as it could easily be seen that children who were educated separately were not being educated equally.
The Supreme Court judge Earl Warren declared the doctrine “separate but equal” to be unconstitutional and a contradiction in terms. Segregation was having a negative effect on black kids and integration was needed. This elevated black status as it meant that they could receive the same standard of teaching, opportunities and funding as whites. Black kids were able to receive prestigious qualifications which would lead them onto having well paid jobs with a steady income. Many blacks thought that desegregation in schools would spread all over the South.
However it was not until the Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education case in 1969 that immediate integration was mandatory. This highlights the limitation of the Brown v. Board case; it was not effective immediate in all schools around the country.
Furthermore, had it not been for the change in leadership in the Supreme Court and Earl Warren’s sympathy towards black people they might have not ruled in their favour. Therefore, despite the short term success of the Brown v. Board case it had its limitations and as well as the NAACP being pivotal in its success, there were other contributing factors which also helped.
The NAACP was not the only civil rights group’s between1945-57. There were other organisations such as CORE, SCLC, SNCC and MIA. These groups mainly focused on de facto change and the use of direct action such as picketing and boycotting as a means to achieve racial equality. The MIA, under the leadership of Martin Luther King, arranged a bus boycott in Montgomery in retaliation to segregation on buses.
The success of the boycott was monumental as it displayed the economic power of black people as over 80% of them refused to use the bus services which put financial pressure on bus companies. It highlighted that they were intelligent and could organise carpooling. Their nonviolent approach showed that they were dignified and not the animals they were made out to be. This gave momentum to the civil rights campaign which could not have otherwise been achieved through the legal system. The boycott gave activists the media coverage they needed to showcase to the world the injustice black people faced.
However had it not been for the NAACP and the Browder v. Gayle case in 1965 which ultimately made segregation on buses illegal, the boycott would not have achieved its main objective. This shows that de facto change is equally as important as de jure change and other civil rights groups contributed to the overall success of the civil rights campaign.
The Federal Government also helped the Civil Rights Movement. Truman had the Presidential committee publish ‘To Secure These Rights’ which is a report that highlighted the problems black people faced as well as recommendations on how to improve their lives. However, despite the recommendations being unrealistic and having little if no effect, Truman was the first President since Lincoln to publically commit to civil rights.
Truman was more focused on combating civil rights than the Cold War as he knew he could not defeat the communists with black oppression in his country. Truman began to give black people Federal jobs; he appointed the first black Federal Judge and American Ambassador for the UN. Truman was able to successfully desegregate the Army as well as have a desegregated crowd at his Inauguration ceremony which showed that he wanted action and gave Federal support to the cause.
In addition to this, Eisenhower took the National Guard under Presidential control and ordered them to protect the students in Little Rock (1957) and escort them inside the school building. Regardless of him abstaining from civil rights he was reluctantly forced into aiding desegregation, therefore it wasn’t only civil rights groups such as the NAACP who were responsible for the successes of civil rights; it required the backing of the Federal Government.
by Libin F