The NAACP and Radical Voices
THE 1930s put every organized segment of the black community to the test of adapting itself to the urgent situation produced by the Great Depression; to stand still was to risk irrelevance. The NAACP, with middle-class roots and a mass following that extended beyond that class, was particularly sensitive to the changed conditions and, although not without some difficulty, it managed to retain a leadership position among Afro-Americans. As the center of gravity of black opinion drifted leftward toward support of industrial unionism and embraced the New Deal, and as blacks often saw a new legitimacy in the views of the Communist party, the association also drifted to the Left but at the same time retained its place as a voice of moderation. It continued its championing of civil rights, took a friendlier view of labor unionism, but also maintained its emphasis on working through the courts and avoided any formal involvement with Communists in united front activity, especially on the national level. The opinions of white liberals were still a significant factor in shaping the organization's direction. Reacting to the enhanced position of leftists within the black community, the association accelerated its antilynching activities, thereby providing a focus for broader unity while seeking to strengthen its ability to compete with the radicals for the allegiance of the masses. It should be noted that for much of this period the NAACP was in the position of responding to pressures coming from the Left.
A shift in the association's position was a process, and a significant episode in that process was the divergence between W. E. B. Du Bois, editor of the Crisis, and the main group of the organization's officers. The question of racist violence and of black response to that violence was one of the issues addressed in that debate. There were, to be sure, personal elements in the rupture. Du Bois did not believe that Walter White was the proper person to lead the NAACP, and there was also Du Bois's perception that the organization was in a state of general crisis. In mid-1934 he wrote that the association's leaders were called upon "to