Sunday, July 26, 2009

NAACP- Centennial Convention in NYC - part II- July, 2009

During the Convention the following people were part of an armchair discussion to comment on the NAACP past and future. 

All are recipients of the Spingarn Award which is given for ‘the highest or noblest achievement by an African American during the preceding year or years.’ 
Joel Spingarn, one of the NAACP founders, was a professor of literature and formulated much of the strategy that led to the growth of the organization. He was elected board chairman of the NAACP in 1915 and served as president from 1929-1939. 

1958 - Little Rock Nine (1957)– Bottom row, left to right: Thelma Mothershed, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Gloria Ray; Top row, left to right: Jefferson Thomas, Melba Beals, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Daisy Bates (NAACP President), Ernest Green.

On September 3, 1957, the Little Rock Nine arrived to enter Central High School, but they were turned away by the Arkansas National Guard (called out by Governor Orval Faubus) - The soldiers barred the African American students from entering.

On September 25, 1957, under federal troop escort, the Little Rock Nine made it inside for their first full day of school. They were still subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse (people spitting on them, calling them names) by many of the white students.

The Little Rock Nine have received numerous accolades and awards for their courage.  The renowned NAACP Spingarn Medal -1958, (received medal when they were 15 years old) for their pioneer role in upholding the basic ideals of American democracy in the face of continuing harassment and constant threats of bodily injury. They also received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Five of the group were present. The question was asked ‘How did NAACP help?'  They said that their parents were members of NAACP and they  had a vision for their children – also, Thurgood Marshall was instrumental in the process of integration of the schools.


Governor Douglas Wilder

1990 –  former Governor of VA 90-94. Received the award for being a public servant, attorney, and visionary in tribute to an extraordinary life of accomplishments.

He said, “Over the years the  NAACP was not thinking about themselves but those who followed them.  He recently spoke with a young boy -who said  "I am going to be the president of the United States" – he is glad that children can now believe it.

John Conyers, Jr.

Received the award in 2007 - John Conyers, Jr.  of Detroit  Former congressman. Received the award for being a guardian of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, a consummate legislator and public servant.

He said there were three  people that inspired him - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.  In each case they were told that they couldn't do it.  Mandela was sentenced to life in prison and later became Prime Minister of South Africa.  Dr. King was advised not to start the movement in the south and that  non-violence would not  work.  Barack Obama became the 44th president on shoulders of everything done by the NAACP.

He also  said "The Government should put everybody to work  and  create jobs, also that banks are  having a vacation retreat with bail out money. Banks should give more accountability for the  money."

Andrew Jackson Young

1979 – former Mayor of Atlanta, US Congress, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

He said that he witnessed Thurgood Marshall plead the case of equal pay for African American teachers (1941). In 1960 he and his friends  started collective civil disobedience. 

His suggestions are ” Voting should be allowed on the weekend instead of Tuesdays. Statistically countries with the highest voter turn out vote on weekends. This would give more opportunity for workers to vote.  Also, that every American citizen should have a bank account. Many people missed out on the Stimulus payments because they don’t have direct deposit for benefits. It would be good for the banks and good for the citizens.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. 

Received the award in 1989 – Founder of Operation Rainbow PUSH –clergyman, political leader, civil rights activist. 

His heroes are Julian Bond who inspired a generation and Vernon Jordan whose belligerent acts of courage inspired him.

He said “On July 16, 1960 he was with a group who tried to use public library in Alabama and they went to jail – The NAACP had a drive for freedom but there is still inequality. Blacks are 4 x’s less likely to get a job than whites.  They are number one in infant mortality and number one in mortality. There are  2.3 million people in prison and 1 million are Black in jail due to the cocaine disparity in sentencing. Free but not equal. Target the stimulus tell government don’t just stimulate the banks stimulate the needy people. We try to get to the Olympic Games without giving Olympic educations to our youth.“ 

General Colin Powell

Received the award in 1991-  four star General of the US Army, 12th Chairman,  Joint Chief of Staff, US Department of Defense. Former Secretary of State.

 Asked about the progress in military- how did NAACP make a difference? 

He said "He served in Korea and Viet Nam where he was during the summer of ’63 while his wife and young son were  in Birmingham AL.  During  WWI the NAACP called for more black officers. In Europe their supervisors were French Officers. They could not participate in celebration parades when they returned to the USA because of segregation. During WWII Tuskegee airmen had to prove themselves.  In 1948 President Truman signed the desegregation order which took 5 years to go into effect. When he joined the service in 1959 he could be considered for promotions at that time – NAACP did that for him. 

Today our children are born hard-wired digital.  50% are  not graduating and 70% are born  out of wedlock. They need to learn to  mind manners mind adults – we have to focus on our youth – give them the impetus they need to complete education and put our families together. They have to be ready to be citizens of a global environment."

Dr. Benjamin Hooks

Received the award in 1986  (NAACP Executive Director 77-92)  in tribute to his precedent-setting accomplishments.

He has great memories of the  greatest organization for civil rights. Proud of Anti-lynching laws.

He said “In A.D. 33 an African named Simon saw a man struggling with a cross – he was asked to carry cross for him and he did. – One day it will be your turn to do something about it. It’s your turn now! Pick up the cross and move on."

What can be done now? – "First, too many black athletes are making millions of  $ and not giving back to the community. Michael Jackson had NAACP do voter registration at his concerts. Right wing radio – needs to go!  If President Obama fails the nation fails! Everybody should support the new NAACP president Mr. Jealous."

Vernon Jordon

Received the award in 2001 - NAACP Field Director Georgia 61 - 63, National Director Urban League, Lawyer, Advisor to Presidents, Champion of Civil rights, and Human Rights. Exemplar and True Believer.

 He said " I worked with Medgar Evers, Roy Wilkins and  Clarence Mitchell.  Conversations with these men was like advanced learning. He learned that in local disputes you let the people work it out for themselves."

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height 

President of  National Council of Negro Women – National YMCA; The Center for Radical Justice; President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She received the award in 1993 for extraordinary leadership in advancing women’s rights.  

When asked what are the achievements of NAACP –she stated "The  Anti-lynching Campaign - at that time she organized the Harlem Youth Campaign and they joined the NAACP United Youth committee with the  Council Against Lynching. The NAACP are  still working to make the 14th amendment fulfilled – equal justice under law. She also stated that  Lillian Smith, a  white southern woman , wrote ‘Strange Fruit’ and this song helped the most by exposing lynchings. Thanks to NAACP they stopped lynchings."

"As we look to the future we need to be conscious as a family in the United States  and African American women seldom 'do what we want to do, but always do what we have to do.' We cannot improve condition of family without improving conditions for women and she believes that the NAACP can work on this." 

The Delegates sat and listened as these icons of history sat in a semi-circle and discussed past and present events in history that they had taken part in. 

Most of the Delegates have their own stories to tell and have alsotaken part in the NAACP struggle to make changes in this country. 

It was truly a moving event. I was especially moved by the words of Dr. Height, who is now 97 years old, and has as much passion for change as she did as a young woman. A true example for all of us in the audience.

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