“The leadership was overly concerned with recognition from whites, a concern that helped prevent the organization from taking a confrontational stance. The program overly oriented to a middle-class agenda and not nearly strong enough to the kinds of economic issues that mean most to workingclass black people. [And] the organization [was] too centralized.”

These views of the problems of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are not those of a present-day critic, reflecting on the Association’s recent woes. They were formed by Ella Baker during her years as the NAACP’s assistant field secretary in 1941 and as National Director of Branches from 1943 to 1946, as summarized in Charles Payne’s book I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, published in 1995. Yet Baker’s assessment fits extraordinarily well with some of the issues that have called into question the viability and continued relevance of the NAACP as it faces its centennial in 2009.


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