ATLANTIC CITY — One hundred and nine years after a group of white and black activists formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, black Americans have gained important achievements in equality, but activists say there is still so much further to go.
Despite the harsh winds and wet weather Sunday, a handful of people made their way through the red double doors of the Jethro Memorial Presbyterian Church to celebrate the NAACP’s legacy and history as the nation’s oldest and largest civil-rights organization.
“It’s very important, for the time we live in, to redirect ourselves to the NAACP,” said chapter president and Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz. “Today, on the 109th anniversary, it’s fit and proper to gather here and remember the gains we’ve made and the struggle we still have.”
South Jersey activists said focusing on political, educational, social and economic rights for everyone, especially for people of color, is that much more necessary amid a resurgence of open racial discrimination following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The NAACP was established Feb. 12, 1909, after a deadly race riot in Springfield, Illinois. Founding members included Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell and W.E.B. Du Bois, the latter of whom created the official journal of the NAACP, “The Crisis.”
The national organization, which includes more than 2,200 chapters, has played a role in many landmark civil-rights cases and movements, including 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Rev. Marion McLaurin, of Jethro Memorial, was the guest speaker at Sunday’s anniversary event. As a religious leader in the community, McLaurin said a lot of his work overlaps with what the local NAACP chapter does as they both serve many of the same people, issues and concerns.
Thinking back to the significance and outcomes of the civil rights movement, which spanned from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, McLaurin said the discriminatory actions of today present an occurrence of what was thought by some to be resolved.
“It’s very discouraging to minorities, because there are still people in poverty, who have family or economic issues,” he said. “On top of that, if you feel that (racial) suppression, where does that put them psychologically?”
McLaurin said for suppression and discrimination to resurface in 2018 is sad, but it invites the NAACP to speak, fight and confront the public on the identity mainstream America has taken on.
Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, said it wasn’t until he left a small community in Buena Vista Township and went to military basic training in Texas in the late 1960s that he got a taste of what segregation and discrimination looked like in other parts of the country.
Looking at today’s national political leadership and social climate, both he and Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said it seemed like the nation was moving backward instead of forward in regard to equality and the elimination of discrimination.
McLaurin used the ideas and words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Du Bois to get a message across to the group gathered at the church Sunday night.
“The crisis continues,” he said. “Every day in America, we are reminded that the content of your character does not outweigh the color of your skin. There continues to be a crisis in our land and we need healing.”