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Feb 18, 2009 10:13 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

NAACP celebrates 100th anniversary

Feb 18, 2009 10:13 AM

At a series of small but spirited gatherings last week—replete with birthday cakes—East Enders celebrated the 100th anniversary of the day that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP, was founded in a small Manhattan apartment.

On the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, and less than a month after the nation’s first black President was sworn in, founders day stories of hard-fought victories and Herculean struggles through a century of non-violent battles against systemic and endemic prejudices were mixed with tempered lament for bridges still not crossed.

“People ask me if I believe a number of things” would have taken place by 2009, NAACP Eastern Long Island branch President Lucius Ware said at one of the local celebrations, at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, last Thursday afternoon. “There are things I would not expect to see in 2009. I would not expect to see lynchings in our beloved Patchogue. I would not expect to see people tasered in Southampton until they died. I would not expect to see us chasing nooses around the [Sagaponack] area.

“Would I expect to see a black President?” he continued. “To tell you the truth, I never really thought about it.”

Despite the mountainous hurdles that have been cleared, racial prejudices are still rampant throughout the country and on eastern Long Island, Mr. Ware said. Suffolk County, New York State and the rest of the nation are “still going backward” in terms of racial equality, he said.

“There are more young people of color in prison now than we have in college,” Mr. Ware said in an interview following one of his appearances. “Something is wildly wrong with the path of not school-to-college but school-to-prison. Everybody is included in why that is happening. Prison labor production even keeps jobs down. It’s nothing more than a form of slavery.”

Mr. Ware and the Eastern Long Island Branch of the NAACP hosted four celebrations last Thursday, February 12, in Riverhead, Greenport, Southampton and Water Mill. At each, playwright Clare Coss, an East Hampton resident, read from her play “Dangerous Territory,” which recalls the formation of the NAACP.

“Founders day is the day a call went out for a conference, to start an organization, a new organization with women and men of both races united to protest and act openly,” Ms. Coss read. “On Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, we planned the conference, an integrated effort, and launched the organization in 1909.”

The organization was born in the wake of the 1908 race riots in Springfield, Illinois, the hometown of Lincoln. Set off by accusations that a black man raped a white woman—even though the victim herself said her attacker was white—and the murder of a white man, the riots raged for two days with white mobs burning the homes and businesses of Springfield’s black residents. Two black residents and five white rioters were killed during the turmoil in the supposedly peacefully integrated northern town that had produced the “Great Emancipator.”

Less than a year later, William Walling, Mary White Ovington and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois met in the New York City apartment of Dr. Henry Moskowitz and formed the NAACP, symbolically choosing Lincoln’s birthday as the official founding date.

A half century later, the Eastern Long Island branch was founded, and not long after that East End minorities began their own struggle to lift up the black and Native American populations here. Among the earliest battles the organization fought locally was over equality of education. Sitting in the audience on Thursday was the Reverend Marvin Dozier who, 30 years earlier, while a student at Southampton High School, was one of the East End’s earliest NAACP activists. He is now a member of the district’s Board of Education.

The NAACP “was doing youth and educational things a lot back then, organizing youth groups out of the churches,” Rev. Dozier recalled. “There were no black teachers in the school and there was no material sensitive to our history. They organized us and we fought hard for that. We pushed that hard. The first one they hired was [Lucius] Ware. Then there was Larry Lassiter and, after that, Mr. [Caroll] Tart and Barbara Bernard came. That was the beginning. Then we started with the black history courses.”

Rev. Dozier recalled leading retreats to Shelter Island intended to build racial sensitivity in the local schools—10 black students and 10 white students spending a weekend together with NAACP youth leaders.

“Those retreats highlighted our brotherhood in the years right after the killing of the Kennedys and Brother Malcolm [X],” he said. “We saw that in the whole civil rights movement it was the students that were doing it—the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The NAACP was a strong group that gave us that kind of organization. You had a sense of really small things turning into really big things. The air was filled with a great identity.”

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What a wonderful article highlighting Mr. Ware's and others dedication to equality for all! My father was the first African-American Principal in the Southampton School District, from 1979-1982 and there has only been one other person of color to hold that position after 26 years! There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, but it is great to know those who started, are still going strong!
By tmcculley (4), Water Mill on Feb 19, 09 6:22 PM
I have had the great pleasure of having worked with Lucius Ware a few years back. He is a great man deserving of admiration for all he's done and continues to do for our community.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Feb 23, 09 5:37 PM
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