It goes without saying that the NAACP is a venerated Black institution for a reason. The century-old organization has seen African-Americans through the ups and downs of the civil rights movement, the Great Depression and more than a few wars. There’s a reason we needed the NAACP in the past, and there’s a reason we still need it. However, this doesn’t mean that the NAACP is without its pockmarks. The organization—both its governing body and its local chapters—have made some big mistakes over the years, and the latest is in New York City.
Two weeks ago a group of Black families turned out in New York to protest a new lawsuit filed by the NAACP. The image of a group of African-Americans protesting the world’s most famous African-American organization was a shock to some, specifically Washington Post contributor Kevin Chavous. “How did it get to the point that the country’s foremost civil rights organization is the target of a protest by the people it was created to serve?” asked Chavous. “Forty years ago, Harlem was marching alongside NAACP leaders in the fight for justice and education equity for African-Americans. So what happened?”
What happened is that the NAACP recently filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education, which has released plans to close 22 failing schools and open several charter schools in their place. The lawsuit could lead to the shuttering of several great, high-performing charter schools serving mostly Black students, which is what is making the protesting families so angry.
As Chavous notes, “An NAACP spokesman says that the group supports alternative schools but doesn’t want the city to neglect its public schools. But wait a minute. Charter schools are public schools. What the NAACP seems intent on preserving is the 'system' of New York public schools that has failed kids in Harlem for far too many years.”
In this case, the NAACP looks to be in the wrong, especially if you’re a parent with a kid in one of those successful charter schools.
To be sure, this is nothing new. The NAACP has emerged with egg on its face several times over the course of its 100 years. For instance, last year President Ben Jealous spoke publicly to rebuke Shirley Sherrod for perceived racism, a charge that was soon shown to be completely made up. And in June of last year, the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter made a mountain out of a molehill when it charged a talking Hallmark card with racism because the card, which was space-themed, made “black hole” sound like “Black whore.”
None of this is to say that the NAACP is a mostly bad organization, of course. But it’s good to remember that nobody’s perfect—even if they’ve been around for 100 years.
(Photo: Joshua Lott/Reuters)