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

By Weyburn, Kam-Teo | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

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


Weyburn, Kam-Teo, The Western Journal of Black Studies


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

Author: Thomas L. Bynum

University of Tennessee Press, 2013

Price: $ 49.00

ISBN: 978-1-57233-945-3

NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom: 1936-1965 is a recent work by Thomas Bynum that challenges current historiography which argues that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) viewed civil rights activism within its ranks as anathema to its legal assault against segregation. Indeed, the historian from Middle Tennessee State University posits that the African American protests of the 1960s had as its genesis the NAACP youth direct action that began in the 1930s and that expanded mightily in the 1940s and '50s. In the final analysis, ironically, Bynum asserts that the autocratic bureaucracy of the NAACP stifled the very youth and student activism in the association in the 1960s that it had created three decades earlier.

Bynum informs us in the first chapter of NAACP Youth that Juanita Jackson, a student leader, laid the foundation for "non-violent direct action" (1) by young people within the NAACP in the 1930s. A member of a prominent NAACP family in Baltimore, Maryland, Jackson had access to the still relatively young association (founded in 1909) hierarchy where she promoted the importance of African American youth as future association leaders. These were also the years where the role of NAACP youth and college chapters were formulated with the youth coming within the jurisdiction of local branches while the latter came within the purview of college administrators (both black and white) and the NAACP Board of Directors. The first chapter also portrays a civil rights organization laying the groundwork for young people to advocate for equal educational opportunities, employment opportunities, civil liberties, and anti-lynching legislation, mandates that reflected the agenda of the NAACP National Office in New York City. Bynum briefly mentions some youth and college chapter support of the "Scottsboro Boys" during the late 1930s but does not criticize the class bias of the association's establishment (secretary Walter White, in particular) for initially not supporting the working class black youngsters falsely accused of raping two white women.

The Second World War motivated NAACP young people to new heights of political engagement as black soldiers that were ostensibly fighting a war against racism abroad still faced racism at home. According to Bynum, the 1940s also brought to prominence national youth director Ruby Hurley who saw a "lack of collaboration" between youth councils and college chapters as an opportunity for closer cooperation between the two groups in order to advance the NAACP agenda. Certainly, the energetic Hurley used the war as a catalyst to mobilize African American young adults to document black soldiers' "undergoing physical violence at the hands of white commanding officers or mob violence." (34) Disappointingly, the author only makes a passing comment on the "Double V for Victory" campaign that took place during the Second World War an omission of a civil rights endeavor (originated by the Pittsburg Courier and therefore outside the self-proclaimed hegemony of the NAACP) that should have garnered the interest of association youth councils and college chapters. Nevertheless, an important revelation in NAACP Youth was that prominent black public colleges such as Howard University restrained its students from engaging in student direct action because of its dependence on federal government funding.

The tremendous mass mobilization of NAACP youth councils and college chapters after the Second World War was a positive reaction to the continuing segregation in the United States. In fact, asserts Bynum, conferences in the late 1940s "provided valuable leadership training for political and social activism," (48) that focused on the political machinations and the lobbying of Congress which in turn complemented the NAACP's encouragement of youth councils and college chapters to challenge discriminatory practices in local communities. …

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