The Chicago NAACP and the Rise of Black Professional Leadership, 1910-1966


In a city of migrants, the Chicago NAACP was one of the first branches created to aid the national effort to attain first class citizenship for African Americans. Evolving through six decades of white resistance, black indifference and internal group struggle, the branch was affected both adversely and positively by two world wars, national depression, the Cold War conflict and growing class differentiation among blacks. Among the luminaries who influenced the development of the Chicago NAACP's development were Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Jane Addams, Dr. Charles E. Bentley and Earl B. Dickerson during its earliest days. In the middle of a decade of racial self-assertion by 1925 the branch selected its first African American president, shedding its biracial, patrician leadership. Significantly, this period also marked the emergence of a black professional leadership in the civic life of Chicago. An ideological struggle during the 1930s in pursuit of integration produced what W. E. B. Du Bois labeled the 'Chicago Revolt.' His endorsement of what was perceived as a revival of Booker T. Washington's program of self-segregation infuriated Chicagoans. By the 1950s the Chicago NAACP achieved primacy among civil rights organizations in the city. Cora Patton was elected its first woman president in 1954. Over a torturous half-century of inter-racial and intra-racial struggles, the branch shed its elite image and agenda to become a democratized organization encompassing the interests of not only the privileged but the dispossessed as well. The branch also challenged the powerful Bronzeville Democratic machine of Congressman William L. Dawson. The study concludes with the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago in 1966, when the branch had lost much of its past luster and would play only a minor role in the Chicago Freedom Movement.


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