By Nicole C. Lee, NNPA Columnist --
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) celebrates its centennial this year with activities culminating this month at the annual convention. Meeting in New York City, convention members met under the banner “Bold Dreams, Big Victories.” The convention included a 100 year retrospective of the organizations’ century long relationship with the continent of Africa, the focus of an afternoon International mass meeting on July 15th.
As TransAfrica Forum’s executive director, I am deeply mindful of this important historic relationship; NAACP leaders were pivotal in the founding of my own organization, they were members of the small group of civil rights and social justice leaders that came together to create TransAfrica and TransAfrica Forum.
NAACP staff and members have been an important partner in many of our international public education campaigns and legislative advocacy activities. Today we work closely with the NAACP on international issues of race and justice.
The mass meeting included high level dignitaries, including Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal, rapper Akon, and singer Baaba Mal. The conversation was an important opportunity to remind members and our community of the deep historical relationship that has existed and to begin to think about the shape and contours of the next 100 years between African Americans and Africa.
Wade and other speakers noted the double impact of the NAACP. First the concrete impact of internationalists within the organization. Bold leaders like Ralphe Bunche who assisted in writing the charter of the United Nations,and Thurgood Marshall who lent his legal expertise to the drafters of the Kenyan constitution. W.E.B. DuBois, one of America’s leading scholars, was an ardent Pan-Africanist and one of the founders of the NAACP. DuBois eventually made Ghana his home, providing support to the anti-colonial movement there. From 1910 to 1934 DuBois served as the organization’s director of publicity and research, member of the board of directors, and editor of the Crisis Magazine. As important, the NAACP and the broader civil rights movement have had an profound impact on Africa and its people. Ideas of justice and equality have had a deep impact on the development of West Africa, energizing and inspiring anti-colonial efforts. The NAACP has been a leader in understanding that the struggles here in the United States are connected to the struggles on the continent of Africa. It has embraced the fact that the issues that face Africans on this continent are felt triple fold in Africa. The same racist, imperialist policies that suppress human growth in Africa suppress it here.
Non-violence in support of civil rights has had a tremendous impact on the human rights struggles throughout Africa. In Southern Africa, the influential African National Congress, was formed one year after the NAACP, inspired inpart by the new organization.
The symbiotic relationship between African and African-American liberation movements has served both continents and thus the world. Civil rights movements here and in Africa voiced the same sentiment. Both continents have found support through the leaders of the NAACP.
NAACP national and field leadership were important partners in the fight against apartheid South Africa. In 1988, the organization included a protest at the South African Embassy in the annual convention, its leadership marching along side TransAfrica’s Founder and President, Randall Robinson and hundreds of other activists.
The NAACP’s history also includes Earl Shinholster, regional director for the Southeast was killed in a car accident while carrying out public education activities on behalf of war-torn Liberia.
In his speech, Akon laid the framework by noting that the ancestors and leaders paid our dues for freedom and that their sacrifice created a world in which many of us can be comfortable.
This is true not only in the United States but in Africa as well. So, we join our brothers and sisters in Africa and throughout the Diaspora in saluting the work and partnership of the NAACP. We look forward to next 100 years! Happy Birthday!
Nicole C. Lee is the executive director of TransAfrica Forum.