- Last Updated on 10:56 AM 01/06/10
- BY JEFF HUMBER
“What must we do with this history now?” was the question Rev. Dr. William Barber II posed to those in attendance at Saturday’s NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet celebrating the 100th year of the NAACP.
Barber gave an extensive overview of the history of the civil rights organization and the people who founded the organization. He spoke of the significance of the date Nov. 7 when Elijah Lovejoy was killed defending his newspaper which wrote against racial injustice, the first two black mayors of major American cities were elected, and Douglas Wilder was elected governor.
Addressing the organization’s history, Barber said it’s important to understand it, but that it must be used to further the organization’s goals.
“You don’t drive looking in the rearview mirror if you want to get where you’re going,” Barber said.
Barber touched on incidence of racial violence in Wilmington, N.C. and later in Springfield, Ill., which lead a group in New York to form an organization, the NAACP, to confront the injustices.
“The NAACP is not a black organization,” Barber explained, noting it was founded by concerned whites. “It’s a justice organization.”
The founders issued a letter titled, “The Call,” which highlighted injustices and served as a call to action, Barber said.
The letter was followed up by a national conference where a course of action was discussed.
“They decided it was time for people of goodwill to take a stand,” Barber said. “And they were determined to stand.
“If they could organize, what’s our excuse now?” Barber asked the crowd, noting then there were no African-American members of Congress or justices on the Supreme Court.
Barber said it was a moment of great pride when Barack Obama was elected president in November but added that his election cannot be viewed in a vacuum.
Barber told of a law in Texas in the 1940s that forbade blacks from running in political primaries. He explained that if black candidates could not run in primaries, then they could not run in the general election, and thus they could not be elected to office.
Barber told how thee NAACP came to Texas and challenged the law and eventually through the force of their argument got the law overturned.
“If they decided to stand and were determined to win, what must we do with this history now,” Barber asked again.
Barber said that the NAACP is as necessary now as it was in decades past.
He cited the health care debate and predatory mortgage lending as issues where the organization is taking an active role.
The NAACP is working to see that health care reform legislation is passed and has filed a lawsuit to hold responsible financial institutions that practiced predatory lending, he said.
Barber said the NAACP has always confronted racism in public policy and will continue to do so.
“Institutional racism and disparity still exist,” he said. “We must be dedicated to the cause.”