Building a multicultural NAACP

By Matthew Little

An early April edition of JET magazine contained a feature news item titled “The New NAACP.” Its premise is that this century-old organization that has been unquestionably a pillar of strength for Black people since slavery has become (or is rapidly becoming) a multicultural organization.

The general tone of the article is that with younger and more affluent African American people assuming leadership roles in the organization, it is expanding its outreach beyond the African American parameters.

The article cites the fact that within the past decade the organization has elected at least eight Whites as presidents of NAACP branches, as well as a few with other ethnic origins.
The article cited one of its non-White presidents as saying, “This is a human rights organization, and we have an obligation to fight discrimination wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head.”

Another category that is not usually associated with the African American civil rights struggle that is showing up on the modern NAACP agenda has been that of gay rights. According to the article, some branches have begun to recruit gays, immigrants and other young people who grew up in lands far removed from the landmark 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling.

The article also cites the fact that the organization’s membership had dropped below the 400,000 mark but with the extended agenda has again risen above the 500,000 mark as being indicative of favorable movement. And proof of the “New NAACP” turning towards younger leadership is documented by its latest national election, when it elected Benjamin Todd Jealous, the youngest head of the organization in its history.

As one of the ancient, pre-Brown members, I am glad to see the organization expand and take on discrimination not necessary related to race. I hasten to add, however, that having non-Black presidents is not a new phenomenon in the organization.

Walter White, a true pioneer and lifetime member, was White and national president of the organization for many years. And closer to home, did you know that Jerry Wetterling, father of the much-publicized, kidnapped Jacob Wetterling from St. Joseph, Minnesota, was president of the St. Cloud NAACP? He is White, and of all the investigations into the kidnapping, never was it suggested that Jerry’s NAACP connections could have been a motive.

Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to