In 1905 a group of black intellectuals led by W. E. B. Du Bois formed the Niagara Movement to demand full civil rights for blacks. Following bitter race riots in Springfield, Ill., the Niagara Movement joined with concerned white socialists and liberals to create the NAACP in 1909. The lawyer Moorfield Storey became its first president in 1910, and Du Bois edited its official organ, Crisis, from 1910 to 1934. Roy Wilkins succeeded Du Bois as editor and in 1955, on the death of Walter White (executive secretary, 1931–55), became executive secretary (later director). He was succeeded as director by Benjamin L. Hooks (1977–93) and the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. (1993–94), who was dismissed by the NAACP board amid controversy over his financial and administrative management and after years of declining membership. In 1995 the board ousted its chairman, William F. Gibson, and elected Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, chairwoman. Later that year the board persuaded Kweisi Mfume, a highly regarded U.S. congressman and former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, to relinquish his legislative seat and become president of the association. In February 1998, Myrlie Evers-Williams — whose tenure was widely praised — stepped down as chairwoman and was succeeded by longtime civil rights activist Julian Bond as chairman. Bond noted that the role of chairman — a voluntary position subject to reelection each year — involved setting policy in general terms in coordination with the president, who carries out continuing day-to-day activities.
Since its inception the NAACP has emphasized legal action in areas such as employment, housing, voting, and education. Its lawyers have brought numerous test cases before the courts, of which the best known is the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas school desegregation case of 1954. The association also lobbies for antidiscrimination laws and conducts voter registration drives, educational campaigns, training programs, and research activities. Its membership was about 400,000 in the late 1990s. Its headquarters is in Baltimore, Md.