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The virulent meme spread across our nation with increasing frequency by Republicans and their racist adherents is that "anti-racism" is a code for "anti-white." This is part of a larger pattern of stigmatization of any groups or efforts made to address and redress the racial inequities we still face, and there are myriad variations on the theme, including "reverse racism," "reverse discrimination" and "playing the race card" or simply a dismissal of anyone who attempts to combat racism by labeling them a racist.

Far too frequently we see headlines blasting racist blatherings by Republican politicians and party officials, local, state and national, and their faithful followers repeat these falsities ad nauseam on internet forums, in LTE's, newspaper comments and in personal conversations among family, friends and co-workers.

Just use your favorite search engine. It takes but a minute to turn up examples, which are distributed geographically: Texas Republican Official Peter Morrison Talks Secession, Reverse Racism (Jasper, Texas), GOP Rep. Goes on a Racial Rant (Montana), Racist Rant Gets GOP Chairman in Hot Water (Illinois).

This claptrap has now made its way onto a billboard in Harrison, Arkansas.

Since Daily Kos is a reality-based community, with a readership that has an interest in history, I thought it might be useful to discuss some of the facts with which you might wish to arm yourselves when confronted by this seemingly endless font of bigotry. This is in hopes that in some small way, when faced with any of these memes in the course of daily interactions, online or in real-life mode, you can at least put paid to a few of the most egregious lies and distortions.

No guarantee that pushback will change the minds of die-hard bigots, but we never know when facts may fall onto fertile ground, so we need to keep pushing them.

Follow me below the fold for more.

   

The organization that takes the hardest hit from those who clearly want to distort its message and purpose is the venerable NAACP, the oldest of the nation's civil rights organizations.

Headlines like, "House freshman calls NAACP chief 'racist' in email", "Extremist Hate Group NAACP wants Robert E. Lee’s picture taken down in Florida" (I'm not linking to the hate site that houses this gem) abound, and whoever the current head of both the national (currently Benjamin  Jealous, whose dad is white) or local NAACP groups is at the time, they are the target of warped Teapublican poutrages.

Other newer organizations, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, garner their fair share of sewage from both racists and anti-semites alike, since they were founded by Morris Dees (who is not Jewish but is attacked as if he is), and Joseph J. Levin, Jr.

I'm a card-carrying member of the NAACP and have always been fascinated by its history.  

The Birth of the NAACP

The Race Riot of 1908 in Abraham Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois had highlighted the urgent need for an effective civil rights organization in the U.S. This event is often cited as the catalyst for the formation of the NAACP. Mary White Ovington, journalist William English Walling and Henry Moskowitz met in New York City in January 1909 and the NAACP was born. Solicitations for support went out to more than 60 prominent Americans, and a meeting date was set for February 12, 1909. This was intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln, who emancipated enslaved African Americans. While the meeting did not take place until three months later, this date is often cited as the founding date of the organization.

The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909 by a diverse group composed of W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimké, Henry Moskowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villard, William English Walling (the last son of a former slave-holding family),Florence Kelley, a social reformer and friend of Du Bois, and Charles Edward Russell, a renowned muckraker and close friend of Walling who helped plan the NAACP and served as acting chairman of the National Negro Committee (1909), a forerunner to the NAACP.

On May 30, 1909, the Niagara Movement conference took place at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House, from which an organization of more than 40 individuals emerged, calling itself the National Negro Committee. Du Bois played a key role in organizing the event and presided over the proceedings. Also in attendance was African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett. At its second conference on May 30, 1910, members chose as the organization's name the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and elected its first officers, who were:

    National President, Moorfield Storey, Boston
    Chairman of the Executive Committee, William English Walling
    Treasurer, John E. Milholland (a Lincoln Republican and Presbyterian from New York)
    Disbursing Treasurer, Oswald Garrison Villard
    Executive Secretary, Frances Blascoer
    Director of Publicity and Research, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois.

Much to the surprise of many not familiar with this history, many of these founders were white. Though I spent years studying black history with W.E.B. Dubois and Ida Wells-Barnett as two of my favorite subjects, it wasn't until later in my studies that I focused on any of the white founders. I'll feature two of them here today.

 

NAACP founding member Mary White Ovington
NAACP founding member Mary White Ovington
Mary White Ovington:
Mary White Ovington was born April 11, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents, members of the Unitarian Church were supporters of women's rights and had been involved in anti-slavery movement. Educated at Packer Collegiate Institute and Radcliffe College, Ovington became involved in the campaign for civil rights in 1890 after hearing Frederick Douglass speak in a Brooklyn church. In 1895 she helped found the Greenpoint Settlement in Brooklyn. Appointed head of the project the following year, Ovington remained until 1904 when she was appointed fellow of the Greenwich House Committee on Social Investigations. Over the next five years she studied employment and housing problems in black Manhattan. During her investigations she met W.E.B. Du Bois and was introduced to the founding members of the Niagara Movement.

...On September 3, 1908 she read an article written by Republican William English Walling, also a Liberal, entitled "Race War in the North" in The Independent. Walling described a massive race riot directed at black residents in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois that led to seven deaths, the destruction of 40 homes and 24 businesses, and 107 indictments against rioters. Walling ended the article by calling for a powerful body of citizens to come to the aid of blacks. Ovington responded to the article by writing Walling and meeting at his apartment in New York City along with social worker Dr. Henry Moskowitz. The group decided to launch a campaign by issuing a call for a national conference on the civil and political rights of African-Americans on the centennial of Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 1909...

After the war, Ovington served the NAACP as board member, executive secretary and chairman. The NAACP fought a long legal battle against segregation and racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, voting and transportation. They appealed to the Supreme Court to rule that several laws passed by southern states were unconstitutional and won three important judgments between 1915-1923 concerning voting rights and housing...Ovington retired as a board member of the NAACP in 1947, ending 38 years of service with the organization. She died on July 15, 1951.

William English Walling, Chairman of NAACP Executive Committee (1910–1911)
William English Walling, Chairman of NAACP Executive Committee (1910–1911)
William English Walling:
William English Walling (1877–1936) (known as "English" to friends and family) was an American labor reformer and Socialist Republican born in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the grandson of William Hayden English, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1880, and was born into wealth. He was educated at the University of Chicago and at Harvard Law School. He was a co-founder of the NAACP, and founded the National Women's Trade Union League in 1903.

In 1906, following a trip to Russia to report on the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905 he married Anna Strunsky, a Jewish immigrant and an aspiring novelist from San Francisco. In 1908 he published Russia's Message, a book inspired by the social unrest he and his wife had observed in Russia. In 1908 Walling and his wife went to Springfield, Illinois to investigate a race riot. As a result of their investigations, Walling wrote an article The Race War in the North for the September 3 issue of The Independent, in which he stated, “the spirit of the abolitionists, of Lincoln and Lovejoy, must be revived and we must come to treat the negro on a plane of absolute political and capitalist equality.” He also appealed for a “large and powerful body of citizens to come to their aid.” The article directly led to the founding of the NAACP.

So here we have two staunch anti-racists who helped found an anti-racist organization 104 years ago. Clearly not anti-white. But let's fast forward to today. Though the NAACP does not keep racial demographics for its membership, and yes, a majority are black Americans, NAACP membership is open to all. The current head of the Aiken County, South Carolina Branch of the NAACP, Phillip Howell, is white. There are also local chapter heads who are Latino.

I always find it odd that no one on the right has ever accused me of being "anti-black" because of my membership to a whole range of mainly "white" organizations over the years, from the ACLU to the AARP. In fact, no one ever calls them "white" groups at all, they are just "groups," because white is the norm that needs no descriptor in our society, one must add an adjective to describe anything else.

I've voted for white presidents and white senators, attended mostly white colleges and universities, with the exception of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Howard, due to its history and founding purpose, is "a historically black college" (HBCU), which of course obfuscates the fact it has over the years graduated white students, especially from the medical school during a time when Ivy League med schools had a Jewish quota. Howard was founded by a white man—Oliver O. Howard, for whom it is named. I remember having a conversation with Harris Wofford during the time he was the president of SUNY Old Westbury, before he became a senator from Pennsylvania. He mentioned having attended Howard Law school.

The history of the civil rights movement in this country is one that has been forged out of the activism of people of all backgrounds. I'm always surprised when people question me about my former membership in the Black Panther Party, assuming it was anti-white, simply because of it having "black" in the name, and its militancy. Yet anyone familiar with the history of the Rainbow Coalition forged by Fred Hampton knows that to be a lie as well.

So next time you encounter someone, online or in real life, spreading faux propaganda about the NAACP or any anti-racist group, hit them with the facts.

Better still, if you are white, why not join me in becoming a card-carrying NAACP member. Then you can show them your "card" for real.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, Black Kos community, History for Kossacks, White Privilege Working Group, and Support the Dream Defenders.

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