Art for EqualityThe NAACPs Cultural Campaign for Civil Rights

Art for EqualityThe NAACPs Cultural Campaign for Civil Rights

Jenny Woodley

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780813145167

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky


This book explores what James Weldon Johnson called the “art approach to the Negro problem.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) developed a strategy that attempted to eradicate racial prejudice through altering the way African Americans were portrayed in a wide range of media and through the development and promotion of black literary and artistic talent. It launched a number of cultural campaigns during its first half century, which included publishing art and literature in its magazine and encouraging the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, using the arts to change white attitudes toward lynching, protesting against racial stereotypes in film and television, and lobbying for more positive depictions of African Americans. The book asks what this work reveals about the NAACP as an organization and how it approached questions of assimilation, cultural pluralism, class bias, cultural elitism, censorship, and propaganda. Finally, Art for Equality examines the relationship between culture and civil rights. It argues that the NAACP's cultural strategy was designed to complement its other work by changing white attitudes toward the race and by forging a black identity. As such its cultural campaigns should be evaluated as one front in the battle for racial equality.