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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Some Background to Another NAACP Award The Spingarn Medal by Jeffrey B. Perry

The Spingarn Medal is awarded annually (since 1915) by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for “the highest achievement of an American of African descent.” It has been funded with money from Joel E. Spingarn and from his will.

Joel Elias Spingarn (1875-1939), a former Columbia University professor of comparative literature, was from 1913-1919 the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NAACP (the organization did not have a Black chairman till 1934).

During World War I, the pro-war Spingarn supported “segregated officers’ training camps.” He also became a Major in Military Intelligence, the branch of the Army that monitored the radical and African American communities. In 1918 Spingarn played a leading role in seeking to undermine the autonomous protest of the Hubert Harrison and William Monroe Trotter-led Liberty Congress, which demanded Federal anti-lynching legislation – a demand that neither Spingarn, nor the NAACP, supported at that time.

According to Harrison, Spingarn took the lead and, on behalf of the NAACP, proposed the separate camps “at the very moment" when “the government, badgered by the chorus of purely Negro criticism, was about to throw open to them the training camps in which white men in the north were being made into officers."

Charles Flint Kellogg, author of "NAACP: A History of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People," points out that the "Negro press as a whole bitterly condemned" Spingarn's proposal. Leading papers opposed to the segregated camps included the "Age" (New York), the "Chicago Defender," the "Guardian" (Boston), the "Appeal" (St. Paul and Chicago), and the "Afro-American" (Baltimore).

For more information on Spingarn’s role in the period of World War I see "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press, 2008).
For information on that book CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE
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