For the past couple of weeks, I have been inventorying the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Charleston Branch Collection. The local branch was started in 1916 by individuals who believed in being an advocate for the African-American voice in both Charleston and South Carolina. The collection has been asked about by several researchers, which provided the opportunity to prioritize the inventorying and eventual full processing of this collection
The bulk of the collection I have inventoried so far ranges from 1988 to 1994; and while we were hoping for some earlier materials from the Association, the years we have provide insight into the social conditions for African Americans in Charleston and South Carolina.
The types of letters found in the collection include thank-you letters, cards, calls for boycotts of stores, media outlets, and petitions. In addition, there are memorandums from the NAACP National Branch about what issues are important to the branch, such as the Benjamin Hooks controversy and Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
Some of the most interesting letters and correspondence to read in the collection are from people who write to the branch asking for assistance. In the letters, it is possible to read the desperation, hope, anger, frustration, and a range of other emotions people have about their situation. Issues include discrimination in the workplace, wrongful termination, police brutality, wrongful imprisonment, custody issues, gender discrimination, etc. There are a few full court cases in the collection, while others are comprised of letters asking for assistance. Institutions and business that were accused of discrimination by the complainants range from institutions of higher education (ex. the Citadel) to grocery stores (ex. Piggly Wiggly) to the public school system to department stores. The amount of letters that the association received asking for this kind of assistance is disappointing, disturbing, and overwhelming. By reading these letters, one becomes more aware of how much injustice is in the American justice system, and I wonder what happened to these individuals. I have not found a form that notes how the branch decided which cases to investigate; however, I imagine the branch wanted to help as many people as possible, but had to be selective because of limited resources. According, to a 1991 Freedom Fund Drive press release:
“The Branch is the reliable and trusted voice airing their [African Americans] grievances, articulating their hopes and expressing their frustrations—whether it be to a local employer or to the Governor of South Carolina.”
Programs and Publications
The collection contains some copies of the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine (circa 1980s) as well as the local branch newsletter sent to the members of the organization. There are records detailing special programs and events undertaken by the association such as their Annual Freedom Fund programs, the ACT-SO Golf Classic, the 1992 Gospel Concert, and the NAACP Annual Conventions (regional and national).
As one would imagine, the social issues of politics, education, and voting comprises a lot of the collection. Records of note are those that detail statistics about the number of African-American teachers in the Charleston County School System; the number of Black politicians in South Carolina; the importance of voting for Black politicians; the need for minority businesses in South Carolina and particularly Charleston; media biases; and efforts relating to the struggle to take down the Confederate flag from the state house dome.
Other important records include the rules, constitution, branch manual of the NAACP; the meeting minutes and the agendas for the branch executive board, general body, and various committees; membership lists, officer positions, and membership drive information; local and national newspaper clippings; and records relating the NAACP’s role in helping the community rebuild after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989.