NAACP celebrates a proud 100 years in Muskegon

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– PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

By Cynthia Price

It is extraordinary for an organization to last 100 years, and the Muskegon Branch #3147 of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has indisputably shaped the history of this area for the better during its century of existence.

It is tempting to wish such an organization another hundred years, except that, as well-respected community activist Bernice Sydnor said in a video created for the NAACP centennial, “I hope that we will outgrow the need for the NAACP.”

Sydnor, whose husband John was the first African-American teacher in the Muskegon Heights school system and its long-term superintendent, was just one of many luminaries in the video. Also included were Dr. Frank Howell, a strong NAACP leader in the 1970s; Bill Gill, who was a county commissioner and long-serving president of the NAACP branch; Rev. Moses Jones and Herman Ivory (whose names live on in a highway and a building); and such still-living legends as Deloris Cole, Rillastine Wilkins, Robert Dowson, Ciggzree Morris, Floyd Cook, Orville Sydnor, Jerry Lottie and Rev. Charles Poole.

Though a large portion of the African-American population moved to the Muskegon area during World War II to fill military-arsenal jobs – and as the video pointed out, were not expected to stay – some early Muskegonites had the foresight to start the NAACP chapter only ten years after the national NAACP began.

In 1909, a group of both black and white (and both male and female) New Yorkers formed the NAACP to address violence aimed at African-Americans as well as Jim Crow practices. Often using the courts to challenge policies that were racist, the NAACP has had many victories over the years. In 1915, its first win was in outlawing the “grandfather clause” that allowed white but not black people to get around literacy tests for voting. The famed Thurgood Marshall was the NAACP’s lawyer when he argued Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in the public schools.

The elegant and very well-attended 100th anniversary dinner took place at the Lake House of the Shoreline Inn, and featured a keynote address by Dr. Dale Nesbary, president of Muskegon Community College. Dr. Nesbary pointed with pride to the fact that the college has had and continues to have a good number of African-Americans at the management level, calling out, for example, Janie Brooks. He also talked about the influence of his own legendary mentor, Dr. James Jackson.

The organization will continue to be in good hands as its new officers are: Eric Hood, President; T.C. Nash (who ably served as president until recently), 1st Vice-President; Reatha Anderson, 2nd Vice-President; Cheryl McKinney, Treasurer; and Josie James, Secretary.

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