The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

The George Washington University

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary


The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is among the largest and most prominent mass-membership, civil rights organizations in America. Founded in 1909 with a mandate to secure equal political, economic and social rights for African Americans, the NAACP has been in the forefront of every major civil rights struggle of the twentieth century. Using a combination of tactics including legal challenges, demonstrations and economic boycotts, the NAACP played an important role in helping end segregation in the United States. Among its most significant achievements was the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's challenge to end segregation in public schools. In the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the justices unanimously ruled that separate educational facilities for black and white students were "inherently unequal." That ruling and the court's subsequent order that public schools be desegregated with "all deliberate speed" touched off a firestorm of protest in the South and contributed substantially to the growth of the modern-day civil rights movement.

ER's involvement with the NAACP began in 1934 and lasted until her death in 1962. While she was first lady, ER saw to it that NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White and other members of the organization had access to FDR so they could lobby him on behalf of the needs and concerns of African Americans. She also joined the NAACP's unsuccessful efforts to lobby Roosevelt and members of Congress for legislation prohibiting lynching. When World War II began in 1941, ER and the NAACP joined forces again to convince FDR to end discrimination in war-related industries and federal employment.

ER's commitment to civil rights in general and to the NAACP in particular deepened after FDR's death in 1945. One of her first acts upon leaving the White House was to join the organization's board of directors and she would later chair its life membership campaign and serve as vice-president of its Legal Defense and Education Fund. She also helped plan and implement its public relations strategy for what became Brown v. Board of Education and defended it against its redbaiting critics. After the court outlawed segregation, ER lent her voice to NAACP efforts to enforce compliance and integrate the public schools. In 1957, she championed the NAACP's efforts to integrate Little Rock Central High School and wrote the foreword to Daisy Bates's autobiographical account of the integration effort.

While ER's commitment to the mission of the NAACP was unquestioned, she did not hesitate to disagree with the organization's leadership when she felt that their strategies and tactics were off base. She refused to accept the organization's petition to the UN Human Rights Commission, leading to a bitter feud with W.E.B. DuBois and she fought with Roger Wilkins over the civil rights plank in the 1956 Democratic platform.


Black, Allida. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 85-129.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume Two, 1933-1938. New York: Viking Press, 1999, 153-189.