Guide Introduction: Papers of the NAACP—Part 17: National Staff Files, 1940–1955
Lexis-Nexis African American Studies, December 1995
Publisher's note: This is an example a pointer to the source files needed for any serious study of the NAACP's history. This period is interesting because at this time not only did the NAACP grow quantitatively, it also experienced the qualitative change that contributed to its decline.
The National Staff files for the period between 1940 and 1955 document the inner workings of the NAACP national headquarters during a period of significant growth for the association. They shed light on the personal qualities of numerous NAACP leaders and provide further insights on issues that the NAACP confronted during the period. This series also provides rich documentation on the grass-roots level of the NAACP due to the fact that many of the files are those of assistant field secretaries. These include many letters and reports written to national headquarters from the field during local branch visits and organizing drives.
The internal operations of NAACP national headquarters between 1940 and 1955 are revealed through discussions on job specifications and salaries as well as through financial reports. Many of the files include internal memoranda formulating national NAACP policy, including relations with the branches, the national legislative program, and the overall NAACP organizational structure. Personalities and personality conflicts are apparent in many of the files. The files usually include biographical sketches and background material on staff members. Typically there are memoranda that outline a staff member's vision for his or her role in the NAACP. The plans and suggested strategies for NAACP field work and branch development are especially interesting. Many of the communications reveal staff members' attitudes toward popular political movements including the Democratic and Republican parties, the Communist movement, and potential competitors within the civil rights movement. An interesting vein of the series documents the unionization of NAACP national staff employees in the 1940s. These files include copies of union agreements and wage and salary information as well as information on the attitudes of NAACP executives toward the union.
A significant run of records are the files of the NAACP branch director, field secretary, and assistant field secretaries. Much of the expansion of the NAACP staff during and after World War II went to hire assistant field secretaries. The files of these new assistants, including Marion Bond, LeRoy Carter, Donald Jones, Irvena Ming, E. Frederick Morrow, and others, together with the files of the full field secretaries, Daisy Lampkin and Ella Baker, provide a valuable chronicle of activities at the local level of the NAACP. To a considerable extent, these field reports supplant the voluntary correspondence of NAACP branch leaders to the national office. As a result, this series is indispensable for the study of the NAACP grass-roots network. The correspondence pertaining to field work in each state can be accessed by consulting the Subject Index under the name of the state. (Note that in many cases further reference can be made to the Reel Index, which may provide specific local references.) Of interest, also, among the field staff files is the cultivation of the young Ella Baker by legendary NAACP Field Secretary Daisy Lampkin. This relationship is covered in the files for both Baker and Lampkin.
Apart from the field staff, other NAACP offices are well documented in the series. Julia Baxter's files document the NAACP Division of Information. This department compiled much useful information about NAACP activities in particular and on American race relations in general. It took the responsibility of answering the many inquiries for information coming from outside the organization. Among the division's numerous useful compilations is a list of all NAACP requests made of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, including requests for appointments and legislation. The Baxter files also include lynching statistics and various NAACP branch manuals.
The file for NAACP Branch Director Gloster B. Current supplements the files of the field secretaries mentioned above. The file for Jesse O. Dedmon documents the operations of the NAACP Veterans Affairs Department.
The files of Herbert Hill and Clarence Mitchell cover the operation of the NAACP Labor Department. Hill's files are especially helpful in revealing the network the NAACP developed among labor unions and the way the labor movement assisted in developing NAACP membership. Mitchell's files focus more on NAACP positions on national labor legislation. By 1950, Mitchell's files document his role as director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP. From this point the focus of the files is on comprehensive civil rights legislation. Mitchell was joined in the Washington bureau by Leslie Perry, and the bulk of the Perry files concern the bureau.
The files of Ruby Hurley and Madison S. Jones both document the NAACP Youth Department. Much of this work was essentially field work, developing youth councils and college chapters at the local level.
Two of the largest personal files are those of Walter White and Roy Wilkins. In both cases these files shed enormous light on the personalities, backgrounds, and leadership styles of the two men who led the NAACP for forty years. White's files document his extensive travels in the 1940s and early 1950s, his increasing illness, and the controversy occasioned by his divorce of Gladys Powell White and second marriage to Poppy Cannon. White's "high-profile" leadership style is well illustrated in the documentation on his meetings and personal friendships with celebrities ranging from General Dwight Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and various Hollywood movie producers. In addition, White's files include a vast array of his comments and observations on almost every topic in NAACP history between 1940 and the early 1950s. White's trips to visit African-American troops in foreign theatres of war during World War II are especially well covered.
Roy Wilkins' files depict an intense and forceful leader, first as assistant executive secretary, then acting executive secretary, and finally as full executive secretary. His complex relationship with Walter White is very well revealed in exchanges between the two leaders. His vision for the growth and development of the NAACP is apparent in much of the correspondence and memoranda. During the 1940s, he apparently became something of an anti-Communist trouble-shooter in the NAACP. His files shed light on this role and especially on his efforts to exclude Communists from the Civil Rights Mobilization in 1950. As a former newspaper columnist, Wilkins also kept a keen eye on developments in the African-American press, particularly as they touched upon the image of the NAACP. Beginning in 1954 there are valuable internal communications on strategies for implementing the landmark desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
A subseries of files on Reel 4 titled Conferences includes material on staff meetings from 1940 through 1953. These meetings usually discuss strategies for membership development and fund-raising. They frequently also discuss topical political and legal matters.
The contents of this microfilm are drawn from the NAACP Collection held by the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
The files in this edition were selected from the Staff file series of the General Office File for 1940-1955 (Group II of the collection). All selections were made after a personal review by Professors John H. Bracey and August Meier. Files of minor clerical staffers and files of employment applications were screened out of this edition. The files for each person selected for this edition have been microfilmed in their entirety.
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Copyright 1994 by University Publications of America. All rights reserved.