This week the Riverside NAACP held its annual Freedom Fund Gala, the organization’s annual awards celebration and fundraiser. More than half a million members strong, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization’s principal objective is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority citizens of United States and eliminate race prejudice. This year the Riverside Branch celebrated its 50th Freedom Fund in the chapter’s 72-year history.
The modern NAACP is rooted in the Niagara Movement, a group led by W.E.B. DuBois, which expressed opposition to the racial segregation and growing disenfranchisement at the turn of the last century. The first meeting took place in July 1905 at the Erie Beach Hotel in Ontario, Canada, a location that I visit every year during our Footsteps to Freedom Underground Railroad Study Tour. The small group of 29 were concerned that the laws restricting voting rights, policies of inequality, and the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of “separate but equal” in Plessy v Ferguson, would continue to further institutionalize racial discrimination in America.
While the Niagara Movement was short-lived, its founder soon connected with a group of sympathizers who stepped forward after the 1909 race riots in Springfield, Illinois. When this racially diverse group of civil rights activists joined with what was left of the Niagara Movement, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was born. The new organization focused on legal strategies designed to confront the civil rights issues of the day with a stated goal to secure all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments of the US Constitution. Their first victory was winning a Supreme Court decision in 1915 against the grandfather clause used to prevent Blacks from voting in many southern states.
When I asked Riverside Attorney and Community College Trustee Virginia Blumenthal her thoughts on the continued relevance of the NAACP, she explained, “Even though much progress has been made since the original formation of the NAACP, we need the ever-vigilant eyes of organizations like the NAACP to maintain the heightened awareness necessary to keep us moving forward with the desired purpose.” And as long as there is a national debate regarding voter identification laws and other voter suppression tactics since the Supreme Court voted to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act last year, there is much civil rights work that needs to be done.
Speaking to the gala audience of close to 500 community members Ms. Blumenthal said, “in order to ensure the equality of all persons in the political, educational, social and economic arenas, we need to address the hard topics like broken families, out of wedlock babies, and school dropouts. When we can address and make progress in these areas, then we can eventually achieve that equality for all persons. If you are not a member, why are you not a member? If you are a member, are all of your neighbors and family and friends members? And why not? Complacency is not acceptable in our world. Active membership is required.”
To learn more about the Riverside Branch of the NAACP visit: www.naacp-riverside.org.
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