Toledo’s NAACP chapter marks 100 years with talk by historianWritten by Danielle Stanton | | email@example.com
In 1909 in Springfield, Illinois — Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace — Mary White Ovington, a white socialite, heard of a lynching and decided to form a committee, including some prominent people, to fight racial inequality. Toledo mayor Brand Whitlock was a member.
Whitlock’s participation in the first meetings of what would become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ensured that Toledo would be one of the three oldest and strongest chapters of the NAACP in the country, said Ohio State University professor Kenneth Goings.
Goings spoke at the Downtown Toledo-Lucas County Public Library on Feb. 21 in honor of the NAACP Toledo Chapter’s 100th anniversary this month.
Standing in front of a lecturn before about 40 people, Goings, who is an expert on NAACP history in Ohio, said that the original committee members, which included author and activist W.E.B. DuBois and Jacob Riis, who exposed tenament life, never would have thought the group they formed would see its 100th birthday.
“Not one person at the founding meeting would conceive it would last 100 years,” Goings said.
In the beginning, the NAACP had few successes and many critics who thought it was too radical of an organization for any real good to come of it. During the 1920s, they found some success, including forcing The Toledo Blade to capitalize the “N” in Negro and to stop using the word “Negress,” and they got the “whites only” signs in hotels and restaurants taken down.
In 1930, President Herbert Hoover nominated Judge John. J. Parker for the U.S. Supreme Court. The NAACP rallied to block the nomination because Parker had made racist remarks. By one vote, Parker was defeated and membership in the NAACP sky-rocketed. The Toledo branch participated in the effort and membership dues ensured that the organization would last another 80 years.
“It was a moment of pride for African-Americans during heightened racism and helped build the image of the organization,” Goings said.
Judge Parker remained on the federal bench in North Carolina. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower all considered Parker for a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court but Parker never made it to the highest bench.
“Imagine if Parker was presiding over the Brown vs. Board of Education case?” Goings asked the audience.
In Toledo, membership at the NAACP’s founding in 1915 was 160, in 1920 it was 186 and in 1930 there were more than 500 members. Today, the Toledo branch has about 700 members, said Ray Wood, president of the NAACP Toledo branch.
Wood said today’s on-going goal for the NAACP is to engage as many organizations in the community as possible to create dialogue and improve conditions. Those conditions include the state of housing, education, income and political activism, to name a few.
“What the NAACP has stood for the past 50, 20 years is still there,” Wood said. “We have to make sure there’s fair housing, educational opportunities and trying to eliminate poverty, and then trying to engage different groups is a challenge. If the NAACP can be somewhat successful in bringing the different groups together, then collectively we can put our resources together.”
Wood works closely with IMA, a group of 12 associated churches, and the Toledo Community Coalition. The churches have the “power of the pulpit” and can reach many people, he said. The coalition is on the front lines of combating racism. The NAACP also has a strong relationship with Toledo Public Schools through the Toledo Technology Academy.
“We’re supporting [the groups] and they support us,” he said. “What we’re tying to do is be visible and available and to meet with a purpose in mind.”
Like past presidents, Wood has been dealing with the problem of gangs in the city. The NAACP Toledo branch currently has been able to recruit members who are active in gangs. The gang members take back information to fellow gang members and their families, Wood said.
“We have gangs like never before,” Wood said. “When you start talking about gangs you have to go to jobs, family structure — there’s so many different things that connect to that activity.”
After the 1930s, the black community started to make in-roads: the first black teacher at a white school and the first black woman to enter into St. Vincent’s School of Nursing, Goings said.
“Imagine always having to be perfect,” Goings said. “They always had to look their best. This generation knew the burden they carried and they carried it well.”
In a Q-and-A session after the talk, one audience member asked Goings why racial hatred exists.
“Most of hatred comes from economic competition,” Goings said.
Another audience member asked what she could do as a young adult for the struggle. Wood, who was an audience member, addressed the question and said young people need to get involved, be engaged and join the NAACP.
“We need you as a young person,” Wood said.
After a century of struggle, the fight for racial equality continues today, Goings said. The professor lives in a white neighborhood in Columbus, he told the audience, and often when he visits restaurants, he’s the only African-American in the room.
“It’s not like this has passed,” he said. “We have to be vigilant. [The fight] has to continue or they will go back to the way they were. One successful battle does not mean we have won the war. We need to fight. We need to fight.”