NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1936-1965

By Swindall, Lindsey R. | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1936-1965


Swindall, Lindsey R., The Journal of Southern History


NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1936-1965. By Thomas L. Bynum. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013. Pp. [xxii], 226. $49.00, ISBN 978-1-57233-945-3.)

In NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1936-1965, Thomas L. Bynum extends the scholarly discourse on youth activism by underscoring the civil rights campaigns waged by young people involved in NAACP youth councils. While much of the historical narrative on civil rights celebrates the direct-action campaigns of groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality, Bynum points to an important tradition of youth mobilization that predates the sit-ins and freedom rides of the 1960s. Examining the endeavors of the youth councils also complicates the history of America's oldest civil rights organization. Though the NAACP is known primarily for its judicial strategy, which resulted in landmark victories that overturned de jure segregation, Bynum's book shows that the youth councils employed a variety of direct-action tactics that helped dismantle segregation practices at the state and local levels. The national office, under which the youth councils functioned, was sometimes hesitant to welcome the implementation of direct-action campaigns such as sit-ins, wade-ins, and selective buying drives that the youth council members demanded. Despite the presence of occasional intergenerational tension, national NAACP leaders did see the benefits of direct action, especially in the years after Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Bynum's study also highlights the incipient friction between the NAACP and SNCC during the rising tide of student activism in the early 1960s. The NAACP scolded SNCC for being "impulsive and irresponsible" when its campaigns in places like Albany, Georgia, faltered (p. …

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