In a time of police brutality, severe lynching, “colored” restrooms and water fountains, segregated housing, and employment discrimination, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was born. In 1909, several Black leaders from different organizations such as the “Committee of 40” and the “Niagara Movement” came together to form what is now the oldest civil rights organization in the country, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
However, the constant repression and oppression of Black people all over the country proved to be too much for just the New York organization to handle. Thus, shortly thereafter, local branches were established. In 1912, Detroit received its charter to operate as a local Branch of the national civil rights organization. In the face of this racial hatred, some of the most distinguished Black leaders in Detroit banned together and established the Detroit Branch of the NAACP. They include Father Richard Bagnall, Rev. Robert L. Bradby, Sr., Benjamin Willoughby Lambert and William Osby.
Records indicate that William Osby became the first President of the Detroit Branch NAACP and general membership meeting were held at St. Matthews Episcopal Church, which is still located on St. Antoine at Elizabeth.
Rev. Robert Bradby, Sr. was elected president of the Branch in 1925 and the local civil rights organization began meeting at Second Baptist Church, the oldest Black Church in Michigan, located on Monroe in Greektown.
That year the NAACP funded and won its first major legal action: The People of the State of Michigan v Sweet. This case was based on housing discrimination and the right to protect one’s home and its inhabitants from violence.
The Detroit Branch has remained the largest Branch of the NAACP since its inception. Its power in numbers has proved successful in many lawsuits and public demonstrations in Detroit and throughout Michigan, including the McGhee case ruling, in 1948, by the U.S. Supreme Court that restrictive covenants violated the 14th Amendment.
The Detroit Branch is also responsible for ending segregation in Detroit public housing in 1954 when Federal Judge Arthur Lederly issued a permanent injunction against the Detroit Housing Commission.
In 1956, the Detroit Medical Society banned together to establish the 1st Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner. This was the first Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner held by any branch and was organized under the leadership or Dr. Alfred Thomas, Dr. D.T. Burton and Dr. Lionel Swan.
With its focus on housing, the Detroit Branch NAACP won a summary judgment against the City of Detroit’s “Homeowners” ordinance, which allowed a property owner” to enjoy his property according to his own dictates” and allowed a property seller to reject any prospective buyer or renter” for his own reasons.” In 1966, the branch successfully argued that this ordinance would discriminate against Blacks.
During the 1970’s, after the National NAACP’s victory in the court decision of Brown v the Board of Education, the Detroit Branch focused in on the Detroit Public Schools, documenting its role in desegregating the system. The Branch won their lawsuit against the State of Michigan’s plan to decentralize the schools, which resulted in several vocational centers established within the Detroit Public School System.
Many legal and political fronts had been fought and won by the Detroit Branch NAACP since 1912, however, the issue of economics and entrepreneurship still needed to be addressed. In 1988, in an effort to increase in-store traffic for Black-owned and Detroit businesses, the Branch launched its annual campaign, “Buy Black, Buy Detroit” and published a “Retail Shop and Service Guide” to assist holiday shoppers.
In 1990, funds raised at the Detroit Branch NAACP 35th Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner reached the $ 1 million mark, the first time in Branch history. The funds raised by the annual dinner are used to implement the Branch’s youth programs such as ACT-SO, the Art/Essay contest, the Youth Entrepreneurship Institute and the Scholarship Program.
In 1993, the Detroit Branch recreated the 1963 Detroit Freedom March that was led by Rev. Martin Luther King. The 1993 march attracted more than 250,000 participants and proved once against that there is power in numbers.
During the 1990’s, the Branch began addressing the plight of police brutality and misconduct and took their concerns all the way to the U.S. Attorney Office. Their persistence resulted in several federal investigations. The Detroit Branch also filed suit against the State of Michigan for closing Recorder’s Courts in 1997, charging that the state’s actions violated Detroiter’s voting rights.