Since its founding in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been a leading advocate for African Americans. Its work to end racial segregation in the South during the 1950s and 1960s is well-known. Less well-known is that its work extends beyond African Americans.

Diverse membership

Founded “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination,” the NAACP has had multiracial leadership for most of its history. Its founders were a diverse group that included W.E.B. Du Bois, a black scholar and activist; Henry Moskowitz, a Romanian Jewish immigrant; and Mary White Ovington, a white social activist.

In addition to African Americans, Hispanics, Southeast Asians and Native Americans lead its 2,200 chapters throughout the United States. Some North Carolina and Maine chapters have majority white memberships. “We have no stipulation on what race you have to be,” said spokeswoman Jamiah Adams. “We’re a civil rights organization.”

NAACP participants march in the One Nation Working Together rally for immigration and education reform. (Courtesy of NAACP)

Diverse causes

Beyond its work for the fair treatment of blacks, the NAACP also advocates on behalf of immigrants to the U.S., the majority of whom are Hispanic. (The Hispanic share of the U.S. population rose from 12.5 percent in 2000 to almost 17 percent in 2012, while African Americans’ share of the population remained just above 12 percent during that period.)

The NAACP has joined forces with Native American groups to address education inequities and discrimination in the criminal justice system.

More recently, it has adopted new causes. One program aims to protect the poor from the ill effects of climate change, such as flooding and air pollution. The NAACP endorses extending the right to marry to same-sex couples. “‘All’ means everybody,” said member Ravi Perry, referring to the promise in its mission statement to protect the rights of all persons. Perry was the first openly gay black man to head an NAACP chapter. “Every human has a host of civil rights and civil liberties that we are owed,” Perry said.