With the bicentennials of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin the subject of numerous conferences, articles, and television shows this month, we also should remember another important commemoration in 2009: the centennial of the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The association celebrated its centennial this week. And next year is the centennial of its magazine, The Crisis.
Organized by a multiracial, progressive coalition, in its early days the association worked for racial justice and led campaigns against lynching. It aimed to foster racial pride, racial uplift, and civil rights. It is a testament to the vision and work of its founders that the NAACP continues today. Despite the recent election of the nation's first black president, the NAACP's existence indicates that that more justice-oriented work remains.
On the other hand, in an era that many have called "post-civil rights," some wonder whether an organization like the NAACP is still relevant. But with its recent election of an energetic young leader, the organization seems refreshed and ready to keep issues of social justice before our nation's conscience.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was the NAACP's most renowned cofounder and the tireless editor of The Crisis for nearly a quarter century. A prolific author, social critic, and leading intellectual, Du Bois' remarkable legacy and progressive agenda has yet to be fully appreciated. That The Crisis is still in print today is due in many ways to the wisdom, foresight, and brilliance of its first editor. (Another early black periodical, Opportunity, is still in print as well. It began in 1923 and is the magazine of the National Urban League.)
One place to examine Du Bois' progressive worldview is in the pages of The Crisis. And remarkably, one finds an amazing amount of religious reflection. To learn more about Du Bois and religion, historian Edward J. Blum's W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet is a must-read.
In 1910, Du Bois wrote a prayer for the students at Atlanta University, where he had established the Department of Sociology. He left Atlanta that summer, bound for New York City to begin work as Director of Research and Publications at the NAACP.
While this prayer has wide application, and is borne from life experience, it can also inspire global citizens of the 21st century:
God give us grace to realize that education is not simply doing things we like, studying the tasks that appeal to us, or wandering in the world of thought whither and where we will. In a universe where good is hidden underneath evil and pleasure lurks in pain, we must work if we would learn and know. It is the unpleasant task, the hard lesson, the bitter experience that often leads to knowledge and power and good. Let us, O Lord, learn this in the days of youth while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when Thou shalt say, "I have no pleasure in them" (Ecclesiastes 11:1-7).
Prayer reprinted from: W.E.B. Du Bois, Prayers for Dark People.
Phillip Luke Sinitiere is a Ph.D. candidate in American religious history at the University of Houston and teaches history at a college preparatory school. His book about celebrity preachers and American culture, Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace (co-authored with Shayne Lee), comes out in April. Phillip blogs at Bald Blogger and Religion in American History. This post appears courtesy of a partnership with UrbanFaith.com.