By Ernie Brown
The fall season is usually the time when the area’s minority-rights advocacy groups have their major fundraisers.
This month there will be events sponsored by the Youngstown Chapter and Mercer County Unit of the NAACP.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been a strong advocate for protecting the rights of black Americans and other oppressed people for a century.
The organization began in February 1909 and had its origins not in the segregated South, but rather in Springfield, Ill., which had a horrendous reputation for lynching black men.
According to its Web site, the organization actually was the brainchild of white liberals who were the descendants of abolitionists. A call went out for a public meeting on racial justice. About 60 people attended, seven of whom were black. Some of the black people who answered the call were among the most famous and respected in black history — W.E.B. DuBois, a noted black scholar, historian and writer, who would go on to create the organization’s periodical Crisis magazine; Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a black journalist and lecturer who was vehemently opposed to lynching; and Mary Church Terrell, lecturer and advocate of suffrage and civil rights.
The first president was Joel Spingarn, one of the NAACP founders, a Jewish-American professor of literature who formulated much of the strategy that led to the organization’s growth.
The NAACP’s goal then — and now — is to “ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority-group citizens of the United States and eliminate race prejudice. The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through the democratic processes,” according to its Web site.
Through the years, the organization was at the forefront of some of the most significant achievements in American history. It was involved in the legal process to eliminate lynching in this country. Its leaders brought in an attorney named Thurgood Marshall to argue and prevail in the U.S. Supreme Court in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case that overturned the country’s separate-but-equal doctrine and paved the way for integration.
Under the leadership of Walter F. White, the NAACP was a factor in winning rights for blacks in labor unions. The organization spoke out loudly that the nation’s military should no longer be segregated.
Under the long tenure of executive secretary Roy Wilkins, the organization was instrumental in bringing about the historic March on Washington in 1963 and was out in front during the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 1960s and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Youngstown chapter has been a presence in the Mahoning Valley since 1919, and the Mercer unit began in 1963. The local groups have fought against discrimination in housing, the work force and in public venues.
The 21st century still needs minority-rights groups to help ensure a level playing field in health care, economics and other areas for all people of color.
The Youngstown chapter’s 90th annual Freedom Fund Banquet will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Mahoning Country Club, 710 E. Liberty St., Girard.
Tickets are $30 each. The theme for the evening is “100 Years of Bold Dreams and Big Victories.”
The guest speaker will be political activist Atty. Meredith Lilly, who served as regional field representative for the 2008 Obama for America Campaign.
The Mercer unit’s 46th annual banquet will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Radisson Hotel in West Middlesex. The guest speaker will be Dr. Theodore L. Yarboro, a black family physician from Sharon and a past chairman of the unit’s membership committee.
I’m sure the organizations would love to see a great turnout, and it would be especially gratifying if younger people would choose to get involved to maintain the NAACP’s continued area presence.