NAACP celebrates 100 year anniversary
By Whitney Skeeters
"Fired up?" Shelia Tolbert, secretary of the Morgan County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, asked the gathering at a celebration in honor of the national organization's 100th birthday.
The crowd enthusiastically responded, remembering the familiar chant of the beloved organization.
She continued, beaming while she shouted, "give me an N!"
There was a lot of excitement Thursday night at St. Paul A.M.E., where ministers, civic leaders, and citizens assembled for the Founders Day celebration, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
According to Tolbert, this service was the kickoff for the centennial year and the local NAACP will continue to celebrate throughout 2009.
Festivities included selections by the St. Paul choir, various speakers from the community, and a message by Pastor Aaron Carter from Ridgegrove A.M.E. in Lovejoy of the importance of equality for all people.
Vice president James Edwards also took a moment to remind attendees of the organization's rich history in Morgan County.
The local NAACP was started in 1969 by the late Walter Curtis Butler, Jr., who was distressed over the treatment of an African American man falsely accused of rape by a Caucasian woman. Since its birth, the local branch has always focused on equality in politics. By pairing with the justice department, they successfully brought a suit against the city and the county to end at-large county elections in Morgan County so each district could elect its own representation. Butler became the first African American elected to a county seat. They also continue to work with the schools, local government, and sheriff's department to provide more jobs for minorities. Years before it became a national holiday, the branch convinced the Board of Education to make Martin Luther King's birthday an official school holiday in Morgan County.
Since its birth, Morgan's NAACP has had five presidents: Albert Jones, Walter Curtis Butler, Jr., James Edward, Reverend James McCray, and presently, Walter's wife, Laura W. Butler. The first offices were located in the Jones and Turner Funeral Home in 1969, and in the early 70s, they moved into the office they occupy today on West Washington Street. Meetings were held in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church and in St. Paul A.M.E.
From its initial days under Walter Curtis Butler, Jr., to its present direction under Laura Butler, the mission of the local NAACP has been to promote educational, political, economic, and social justice for all people. The local branch has between 15 and 20 volunteers who participate in its programs throughout the year, such as the annual parade in April and voter registration drives during election seasons.
Although the service was a time to reflect on past accomplishments, those in attendance were clearly ready for the future.
"We are going to be working with the local government to get more jobs in Morgan County," said Butler. "We focus on the rights of all citizens – that's our goal."
She was pleased with progress of 2009. The centennial celebration was a success.
"It was tremendously uplifting, the word of God came out and it was great," said Butler. "I couldn't ask for anything else."
PHOTO BY W. SKEETERS
FIRED UP FOR THE CAUSE: Hundreds gathered at St. Paul AME Church last Thursday as part of the 100 year celebration of the NAACP.
Published in the February 19 edition.