Lift Every Voice
On its 100th anniversary, a history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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As the transformative developments of the 20th century unfolded at home and abroad, Sullivan shows how the NAACP played a key role in the effort to abolish discrimination in voting, education, employment, and housing. The association approached its task in a variety of ways: by working to pass federal legislation; by laboring in the courts – often in hostile Southern courtrooms; and by convincing ordinary African-Americans to work for change in their communities.Skip to next paragraph
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In the NAACP’s early years, a key aim was the passage of federal antilynching legislation. NAACP officials hoped a federal law would reduce the number of lynchings, which plagued blacks, especially in the rural South. The barbaric practice had claimed thousands of black lives since the turn of the century – and the murderers almost always escaped punishment.
Sullivan’s harrowing descriptions of these brutal crimes, which local authorities typically ignored or even supported, remind us of the perils black Americans confronted daily throughout much of the 20th century. While federal antilynching legislation never became law – the NAACP could not overcome Southern opposition in Congress – the effort to enact legislation helped to galvanize support for the association.
Sullivan’s much-needed book also allows readers to encounter some of the NAACP’s most extraordinary figures – men and women whose commitment to the cause of racial justice has been largely forgotten. All Americans should be aware of the unwavering efforts of black figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, William Pickens, Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Ella Baker, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins. “Lift Every Voice” gives one the opportunity to hear their words and to understand the legislative and courtroom strategies they used to liberate a people.
By the time Sullivan reaches her concluding chapters, which consider the victories of the postwar years – the 1954 verdict in Brown v. Board of Education being the most significant – readers will appreciate how arduous and heroic the struggle for racial justice has been. One will also recognize just how important the NAACP has been in helping America become a more just society, even as one acknowledges – or should – that there is still much work to be done.