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Monday, March 8, 2021

This Day in History: December 1st

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Former NAACP President, Arthur Spingarn, Was Born

Former President of the NAACP, Arthur B. Spingarn, spent his career defending the rights of the underrepresented African American population until his death on December 1, 1971. Spingarn served the organization as a member and a leader for more than five decades.

Arthur Barnett Spingarn was born on March 28, 1878, in New York City. He was a Jewish American man born to respected members of the New York Jewish community. Spingarn graduated from Columbia University in 1897 and in 1900 he was admitted to the bar. Both Arthur and his brother Joel grew interested in the Civil Rights Movement after encountering works by Dr. W E.B. DuBois.

Spingarn began working for the NAACP in 1911, and one of his early victories included helping to challenge an all‐white Democratic primary election in Texas. During this time Spingarn also published “Laws Relating to Sex Morality in New York City,” and married Marion Mayer, a social worker who shared his interests in civil rights.

He moved up the ranks and was selected to be the NAACP’s chairman of the national legal committee and vice-president until 1940. Spingarn then became president of the organization, a role which he took seriously. The organization’s membership was 85,000 when Mr. Spingarn became president in 1940, but under his leadership growth quadrupled, particularly in the South. 

Over the course of his life, Mr. Spingarn was an avid collector of books about African Americans. In 1948, he presented his “Spingarn Collection” of books to Howard University which led to the creation of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. The collection consisted of newspapers, manuscripts and other relics he accumulated over a 35‐year period.

During the 1960s, new civil rights groups began emerging and competing for the attention of the African American community. The NAACP also received criticism for being outdated in their methods and having a white president as well as other white members on the board. Spingarn announced his resignation at the age of 88 during an annual NAACP dinner in January of 1966. Despite ending his tenure as president of the organization, Spingarn continued his support of the NAACP until his death in 1971.  

A. Philip Randolph, labor rights activist regarded the death of Spingarn as “a great loss to Negroes in particular and the liberal social movement in general.”

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