Gilbert Jonas has taken on an enormous challenge. How does an author grasp an institution, a behemoth, especially one whose immensity has thwarted every comprehensive effort to place all its history between the covers of a book?
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a venerable organization populated largely by people whose history has been taken seriously only in the last half-century. It is a democratic association that has been at war-nonviolently-with American racism for nearly 100 years. It has 2,000 branches today, scattered across the nation and the world, each engaging in a wide range of complementary activities. It is a grass roots organization, meaning that tens of thousands have had a hand in guiding it at various levels over nearly a century. How is that extensive and over-pop-ulated story best told?
Gilbert Jonas' inside look at the NAACP is more than welcome. He writes as an insider, a former employee, an intimate of NAACP leadership, a white man in an overwhelmingly black institution. He writes from inside the organization, not looking down from the top, but from within the bureaucracy. From that vantage point, he looks upward at the leadership and he looks outward at the hostile climate the NAACP has always faced. He looks backward, too, at the NAACP's founding, and like some of the NAACP's founders, brings the perspective of a lifetime spent in progressive politics.
For these reasons, this volume is likely to be the most personal and most political account of the organization whose acronym is as familiar to most as FBI or CIA.
Yet for all its familiarity, the NAACP presents a daunting and difficult subject for anyone trying to write about it.