It's survived one hundred years, through segregation and disenfranchisement. But can the NAACP survive Barack Obama?
The election of Obama as president is something of a "careful what you wish for" situation for one of America's oldest civil rights organizations. It's certainly what tens of thousands of NAACP members have been working toward for the last hundred years. But individuals like President Obama, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, AmEx CEO Ken Chenault, Condi Rice and Colin Powell have become the face of black America -- if not America itself. Their successes have led some to believe racism in the New Millennium has been relegated to the Smithsonian.
It has not.
Similarly, there are those who question whether or not the NAACP can remain relevant in the Obama era.
Necessary, yes. Relevant...?
It's pretty obvious that the NAACP and President Obama have divergent views of their obligations to the black community. Prior to his address to the organization on Thursday night, the president had been expected to reiterate his now standard message of personal responsibility. In particular, the NAACP was looking for specifics on how the president and the government will handle the disproportionate impact of the economic downturn on people of color (many of the NAACP's objectives were previously laid out in the white paper "Year One: Toward Safe Communities, Good Schools and a Fair Chance for All Americans). In the end, there was a lot of the former, a bit of that latter and much of what all could agree on -- a stressing of the importance of education for all kids.
Governmental intervention and personal responsibility are not mutually exclusive issues, but they do frame a "do it ourselves" vs. "what are you doing for us" debate. For the black community, that's a debate that's been raging at least as far back as the W.E.B Du Bois, Booker T. Washington philosophical grudge matches.
None of that prevented Thursday night from being an historic event: the first black president to address the 100th convention of the NAACP.
But one could say that as of Friday morning the future of the NAACP officially begins.