The San Diego NAACP and the Black Women’s Involvement- Grace Burns

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was centrifugal to the trajectory of African American history, life, and culture in the nation because it brought about securing the political, social, educational and economic equality of rights to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all black persons, and therefore all persons throughout the 1900s and today. Specifically, the San Diego chapter of the NAACP brought about securing all these things, but on a local level, focussing mainly within the San Diego Black community. The NAACP brought awareness and a sense of protection to the African American residents of San Diego from the early 20th to mid 20th century and even through to today, but with this, they still bore the national oppression, inequality, and overall were unaccepted by many whites due to black persons new-found freedom at the start of the 20th century. The organization fought back with lawsuits for black individuals that faced racial discrimination and unequal rights to white counterparts within the city, without this work they could not have made visible the unlawful and discriminatory acts African Americans faced in their day to day life. Further, the large impact women had on the NAACP San Diego Branch was before it’s time due to the societal stigma around women being active as political advocates. Women, similarly to African Americans were heavily oppressed in society before and during the 20th century. So individuals who hold both identities of being female and black had to grapple with simultaneous oppression, even with this black women were encouraged, equal to men, to be apart of the work the NAACP did within the San Diego community.

At the start of the 1900s, San Diego was increasingly getting larger, but the African American population was still relatively small. African American individuals were faced with the less tolerant, white citizenry that discouraged black professionals from settling in the city. The national black press in the nation during this time was seemly unaware of the newsworthiness of events concerning black lives in San Diego because of how small it was compared to bigger cities in California, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco with larger black populations. Despite this lack of awareness and tolerance of black life in San Diego, the black population had its leaders that were pushing for their rightful place within the community. W.E.B Dubois, the director of publicity and research for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had been to San Diego before, as he surveyed the city in 1913 and knew of the black leaders in the community and the advancements they had done and the aspiration to achieve much more for the betterment of black lives. So he gladly accepted community leaders like ex-slave and Bethel A.M.E. Church co-founder Solomon Johnson and businessman Edward W. Anderson, the first black person in Southern California to file a racial discrimination lawsuit, invitation to return in 1917 to help launch a chapter of the NAACP. There were one thousand African American residents during this time all with a hunger for social justice making San Diego a perfect place to have a branch of the NAACP. This placement of the organization was relevant too; already there was the court case of Edward Anderson v. John C. Fisher in 1897 due to the issue of a black couple being denied their prepaid seats at a play in the Fisher Opera House.

During the 1900s and even today, women are typically thought as less than and inferior to men, especially regarding political reform and politics in general. Amazingly, despite being already a minority organization, the NAACP let women, another group oppressed within society, have a significant impact on the work they did, even being in leadership roles, as well as supporting specific issues that impacted black women. The NAACP did many things for all black people within the San Diego community but also targeted racial oppression as it intersected with being a woman. Charlotte L. P. Stearns, a member of the NAACP, in 1923 writes W.E.B DuBois a letter regarding opportunities to lecture in California. Stearns accounts for her experience in bringing speakers to the San Diego area for the NAACP, including Mrs. Talbert and Mary White Ovington. Stearns states in the letter, “You might write at once to the former- Mme. Katherine Tingley, Raja Yoga College, Point Loma, near San Diego, California and to John Willis King, Memorial Institute, San Diego (he gets lots of publicity here.) I sent by separate cover their quarterly which has an article of mine called ‘New Light on the Negro Question.” This letter provides more evidence of the presence of women within the NAACP and shows desire from Stearns to get more people involved with the San Diego Branch as well as her initiative as a high ranking member of the San Diego branch, to advise an even higher ranking national member and leader such as Du Bois. This letter demonstrates the involvement of women within the organization byways of speeches and activism during the 1920s as Stearns accounts for her own article in the letter to Du Bois. In 1947 in San Diego there was the United States Ingalls case. This case brought colossal media coverage to San Diego as it gained national attention. The case exposed how Dora L. Jones, a black female, was kept a slave for thirty years by a white couple that had moved to Coronado from Boston. This case ended with a convention of the couple for having a slave still was illegal. This event brought massive attention to the fantastic work the NAACP did, by fighting back with a lawsuit for Jones who faced racial discrimination and unequal rights.

In a letter from the president of the NAACP San Diego Branch in 1927 to the editor of the San Diego Sun, the president talks about the construction of a local civic center for African Americans in San Diego. He states “ I am advocating for a community house or center for colored people. Realizing that a project of this nature cannot possibly materialize without the support of the majority of colored people, prompts me to write this letter for publication in order to rightly inform the public as to our attitude on this important matter.” This primary source allows me to understand precisely how the NAACP communicated with fellow community businesses and individuals to gain their support so they could potentially move forward with there desired plans that will be for of the betterment of African American lives within the San Diego community. Another letter, written in 1923, from NAACP San Diego Junior Branch to W. E. B. Du Bois provides evidence of black women being in high ranking positions within the branch due to the signatures at the bottom. The letter was written as a token of appreciation for the recent lecture W.E.B made for the chapter, it was signed by officers O. L. Goodwin, Edna Green-Smith and Mrs. Charles H. Dodge. Two of the officers are women, Edna Green-Smith, the secretary, and Mrs. Charles H. Dodge, the directress, once again demonstrating how present women were involved with the NAACP and so early on in 1923 when all women were oppressed by not typically having the opportunities to work in high positions like these.

The San Diego NAACP accomplished so much during the early 20th to the mid 20th century by successfully seeking the enactment and enforcement of local laws and implicated more homogeneous living conditions and standards to those of whites within the community.  The chapter secured black individuals civil rights within the city, informed the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination, and allowed black women, who are simultaneously oppressed, equal opportunity within the chapter to those of black men. The San Diego Branch of the NAACP is centrifugal to the trajectory of African American history, life, and culture in San Diego due to the immense work they did in early 20th to mid 20th century. The work of the branch was crucial due to the intensity and severity of Black oppression during this time. Today, the San Diego NAACP is still working towards the continuous betterment and equality for black individuals that live in San Diego.



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