National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Region I Office

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Organizational History

The Region I Office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) serves as an extension of the National Office of the NAACP in the Western United States. Although branches of the NAACP had been founded in the West as early as 1913 1 , they had little regular contact with the New York based national organization during its early history. In 1944, recognizing the lack of nationwide structure in the organization, the National Office established seven regional offices to coordinate and provide guidance and assistance to local branches. At the time of its founding, the Region I Office (herein referred to as "the Office") coordinated the efforts of thirty-two branches in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington and was referred to as the West Coast Regional Office.

1 Gloria Harrison, "The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in California" (Masters thesis, Stanford University, 1949), 44.

The first director of Region I, Noah W. Griffin, was a professor of Education by training. As the executive secretary of the Florida State Teachers Association, Griffin had been active in fighting for pay equity for African American teachers in Florida and first worked with the NAACP in seeking a readjustment in the pay scale. In 1944, Griffin was appointed a Regional Secretary (director) by the NAACP and established the Region I Office in San Francisco.

Griffin established the Region I Office during a period of rapid growth of the West's African American population. As a result of wartime migration, the African American population of San Francisco grew by more than six hundred percent 2 between 1940 and 1945. The NAACP found itself deeply entrenched in issues pertinent to this rapidly growing community, such as housing and veterans affairs. The Regional Office and the organization's influence in the West grew with the population and by 1947 the Region had expanded to include the states of Arizona, Idaho, Utah and the territory of Hawaii.

2 Albert S. Broussard, "In Search of the Promised Land: African American Migration to San Francisco, 1900-1945," in Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California , eds. Lawrence B. DeGraaf, Kevin Mulroy, and Quintard Taylor (Los Angeles: Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 2001), 190.

In 1950, Franklin Williams took over as the Regional Secretary and oversaw the reorganization of the Region. Williams recognized the unique needs of Region I, which comprised an area larger in size than any other region of the NAACP. He noted that many of the branches were isolated from the rest of the organization and that travel within the Region often proved difficult. Williams developed an organizational structure based on regional proximity that would often cross state lines to allow branches to work together. He established five Area Conferences in the Central, Northern, Northwest, Southern and Southwest of the region to coordinate NAACP program within their respective jurisdictions, the Conferences, in turn, reported directly to the Region I Office.

It was during Williams' tenure that the Regional Legal Committee was founded (1952). A volunteer committee of notable lawyers, including Loren Miller, Terry Francois, Nathaniel S. Colley, and Joseph Kennedy, the Committee was responsible for numerous victories in the area of civil rights. In 1953, the Committee won the landmark case against restrictive covenants, Barrows v. Jackson, in the United States Supreme Court. And in Lesser v. Lesser (1954), the Committee was successful in overthrowing a Washington State court ruling granting custody of a child to his white father solely because the child's mother had married a black man.

The Region I Office was an early proponent of Fair Employment Practices legislation, going so far as to organize a California Committee for Fair Employment Practices in 1955. In the midst of legal and legislative battles much of Williams' tenure was preoccupied with the fight against a perceived Communist infiltration of the organization. At the height of the Cold War the NAACP often found itself combating accusations of Communist associations at both the national and local levels. Williams was particularly concerned with protecting the reputation of the organization and made the elimination of any Communist influence a top priority.

Williams served as Regional Director until September of 1959 at which point he was appointed assistant attorney general of California. Tarea Hall Pittman, who had worked for the Region as a Field Director since 1952, was appointed Acting Regional Director upon Williams' departure and was named Regional Director in 1961.

Under Pittman's direction, the Office continued its fight for fair housing within the Region. The Office was instrumental in the fight against Proposition 14 (an initiative to repeal fair housing laws within California). The Office joined the coalition Californians Against Proposition 14, orchestrated a voter registration drive, and challenged the constitutionality of the initiative in the courts. Although the initiative was passed by the California voters it was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1967 (Regional Legal Counsel, Nathaniel S. Colley, was a counsel on the case).

In 1965, the former Director of Region IV (covering the mid-western United States), Leonard H. Carter, was appointed Director of Region I. Upon moving to California from St. Louis, Missouri Carter was almost immediately confronted by the Watts riots in Los Angeles, which he considered "a turning point in the lives of Negro citizens in America." 3 In response to the riots the Regional Office reorganized its presence in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. In an attempt to bring a more grassroots feel to the organization, multiple branches were established in both cities allowing for more community involvement. The Office began to focus more on issues of poverty and to establish relationships with youth in an effort to change the perception of the NAACP as a middle class group that failed to resonate with large segments of the population. The Office was expanded and a new Field Director was added to focus on youth work and a staff member was assigned to work in the re-opened Los Angeles Office.

3 Region I Annual Report 1965, Records of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Region I, BANC MSS 78/180 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Under Carter's direction Region I also established a Legislative Office in Sacramento (1967) under the direction of Virna M. Canson, a long time NAACP volunteer and local consumer advocate. Although focused on California, the establishment of a permanent position dedicated to legislative issues allowed the Office to more closely follow and influence legislation throughout the Region. The position of Legislative Advocate was unique in that it was funded directly by the California branches through an annual assessment.

Canson went on to direct Region I after the death of Carter in 1974. In 1976, Canson was instrumental in the fight against the Bakke decision, which declared the racial quotas used in the admissions policy of the University of California, Davis Medical School illegal. Despite the national organization's hesitance to have Bakke go to the United States Supreme Court, Canson pressed for an appeal of the decision. The Regents of the University of California did choose to appeal the ruling and in 1978 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled quotas unconstitutional but held that an applicant's race and ethnicity could be considered in the admissions process.

In addition to issues surrounding educational representation, Canson focused much of the organization's efforts on employment concerns. Taking advantage of Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) block grants, the Office developed a NAACP sponsored employment/ training program, Creative Careers, and funded additional staff through CETA funds. Canson remained a steadfast presence in California State politics throughout her tenure as Regional Director. She continued an active correspondence with state political leaders, closely followed legislation and served on both the Equal Educational Opportunities Commission (1973-1975) and the Governor's Civil Rights Taskforce (1981-1982). After fourteen years in the position of Regional Director Canson retired in 1988.

Over the years, the Region I Office has expanded to serve the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, as well as the interests of the NAACP in Japan and Korea. Today the Region I Office is based in Los Angeles, California and continues to serve as the national presence of the NAACP in the West.

Biographical Information

Noah W. Griffin

In 1944, Noah Webster Griffin moved from Florida to California to serve as the first Director of the newly established West Coast Regional Office of the NAACP. A teacher by training, Griffin had become active in the NAACP while fighting for teacher pay equity in Florida. Griffin was born in Lake City, Florida in 1896, to Gilbert Buchanan and Josephine Mills Griffin. He earned his A.B. in 1923 from Fisk University and an A.M. from Iowa State University in 1926, after which he taught at various colleges and universities in Missouri, Texas, and Alabama. In 1931, he married a fellow teacher, Terressa E. Ballou, with whom he had two sons. Griffin returned to Florida in 1930 where he worked as the principal of Lincoln High School in Tallahasse (1930-1933) and Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg (1933-1938). In 1938 he left Gibbs High School to serve as executive secretary of the Florida State Teachers Association. It was at this time that he became interested in the pay scale of Florida teachers. Discovering that white teachers received more pay than their black counterparts, Griffin began court action for pay equity. The state courts ruled against him and both he and Terressa Griffin lost their jobs during the fight. The NAACP became involved in the case and the national office hired Noah Griffin as a Field Secretary in 1944. Later that year he was assigned to open and serve as the first director of a West Coast Region Office in San Francisco, California, a position he held until 1950. Griffin continued to work with the NAACP and officially retired from the organization in 1961. Griffin remained in California for the rest of his life. He passed away in 1974 at the age of 78. 4

4 Christian E. Burckel and James G. Fleming, eds., Who's Who in Colored America (Yonkers, NY: Christian E. Burckel and Associates, 1950).

Franklin Williams

A civil rights lawyer and prominent diplomat, Franklin Hall Williams was born in Flushing, New York in 1917. He earned his A.B. at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1941 and three years later, in 1944, he married Shirley Broyard, with whom he had two sons. Williams began his career with the NAACP shortly after graduating from Fordham University Law School in 1945. At the NAACP's National Office, Williams worked closely with Thurgood Marshall, Special Counsel of the NAACP, on such notable cases as Shepherd v. Florida and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Williams served as assistant special counsel until 1950 at which point he took over as Director of the Region I Office of the NAACP. He served in that capacity until 1959 when he was appointed assistant attorney general for the state of California. After the election of John F. Kennedy, Williams was called to assist Sargent Shriver in organizing the United States Peace Corps. He served as Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa from 1961-1963. He then became the first African American appointed an Ambassador at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, a capacity in which he served until 1965. It was in 1965 that Williams was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, a position he held until 1968. Upon his return to the states Williams was chosen to head a new Urban Center at Columbia University. In 1970, Williams was appointed president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund a position he held until his death in 1990.

Among his many accomplishments, Williams won passage of a 1961 resolution calling for an international version of the Peace Corps under the auspice of the United Nations. He is credited with bringing about substantial improvement to U.S.-Ghana relations during his tenure as ambassador. One of his first acts as president of Phelps-Stokes, a fund established in 1911 to improve education for African Americans, Native Americans and Africans, was to persuade the organization's board to divest itself of holdings in corporations doing business in South Africa. Williams was a board member of the New York Stock Exchange, was chair of the New York State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights and served on the boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture houses the Franklin Williams Papers (Sc MG 378). 5

5 William C. Matney, ed., Who's Who Among Black Americans , 4th ed (Northbrook, Il: Who's Who Among Black Americans, 1985).

Tarea Hall Pittman

Tarea Hall Pittman was born in Bakersfield, California to Susan Pinkney and William Hall. Both her parents' families were among the first African Americans to settle in California: her mother's family came from South Carolina in 1882 and her father's from Alabama in 1895. Pittman's family members were leaders in the community, and the Hall brothers were the founders of the Bakersfield Branch of the NAACP. In 1923, Pittman moved to Berkeley to attend the University of California. It was during her time there that she met a young dental student, William Pittman, whom she married in 1927. After taking time off while her husband finished dental school, Pittman returned to earn her B.A. in Social Service at San Francisco State University and went on to earn a M.A. in Social Welfare at U.C. Berkeley.

Pittman was an active volunteer for numerous organizations, including the Alameda Branch of the NAACP, the California Council of Negro Women, and the National Negro Congress. In 1935 the local chapter of the Congress decided to purchase time on a local radio station for a weekly news program focusing on African Americans. The resulting show, Negros in the News, aired on Oakland radio station KDIA and was hosted by Pittman for 42 years.

In 1952, Pittman began her career with the NAACP, accepting employment as Field Secretary under Franklin Williams. As Field Secretary she served as lobbyist for the Fair Employment Practices Committee, a group made up of various organizations, including the NAACP, supporting the passage of Fair Employment Practices legislation. Franklin Williams was appointed assistant attorney general of California in 1959 and Pittman was named Acting Regional Director in his place. In 1961, she was named Regional Director and served in that capacity until 1965, at which point she assumed a position as Director of the NAACP Special Contribution Fund for the West Coast Region, a position she held until her retirement in 1970. Pittman died in 1991 at the age of 88. The California State Library houses the Tarea Hall Pittman Papers (MANUSCRIPT Boxes 2189-2207). 6

6 Tarea Hall Pittman, NAACP Official and Civil Rights Worker , an oral history conducted 1971-1972, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1974.

Leonard H. Carter

A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Leonard Houston Carter attended both the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1950, he helped organize the Dining Car Employees Union, Local #516, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Carter was an active NAACP volunteer, serving as President of the St. Paul branch from 1958 to 1959. In 1960, Carter joined the staff of the NAACP as a Field Secretary in the Midwest Region of the NAACP (Region IV). Carter was promoted to Director of Region IV in 1964, directing the NAACP program in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. A year later, in 1965, Carter was named Director of the West Coast Region, a position he held until his death in April 1974, at the age of 47. Carter was married to Virginia Robinson with whom he had five children. 7

7 "NAACP Regional Director, Leonard Carter, is Dead at 47," The Sacramento Observer , 24 April 1974.

Virna M. Canson

Virna Mae Dobson was born in Bridgeport, Oklahoma in 1921 to Eula Gross and William Dobson. She was raised in Lima, OK, an all-black town, of which her father served as mayor. Both of her parents were schoolteachers: her mother taught home economics and her father was a school principal. Canson graduated from high school in 1938 and went on to study at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where she studied home economics. It was there that she met her future husband, Clarence Bernard Canson, a native of Sacramento, California. The couple married in 1940 and returned to California where they raised two children. It was in California that Canson first became directly involved in the work of the NAACP. Upon the birth of her first child, Canson became more concerned with the second class status of African Americans in California. She volunteered her time, working as a youth advisor to the Sacramento Branch of the NAACP and helping African Americans gain employment. She worked at the Signal Corporation while her husband served overseas during World War II. It was after Clarence Canson's return from the war that he decided to pursue his law degree, graduating from the McGeorge Law School at the University of the Pacific in 1954.

In 1954, Canson became Treasurer-Manager of the Sacramento NAACP Credit Union. She served in this capacity until 1965, at which point she was appointed Credit Union and Consumer Education Specialist of the California State Office of Economic Opportunity. Canson left this position in 1967, after the election of Ronald Reagan as governor. She was soon asked to join the California Committee for Fair Practices as a lobbyist, a job she accepted and which was financed in part by the Region I Office of the NAACP. Initially established as a short-term position, the Region I Office decided to continue employing Canson as its sole lobbyist in June 1967. Canson served as the West Coast Legislative Advocate until Leonard Carter's death in April 1974, at which point she was named Regional Director. She served as Director of the Office until her retirement from the NAACP in 1988. Canson died on April 14, 2004 at the age of 81. 8

8 Tarea Hall Pittman, "Waging the War on Poverty and Discrimination in California through the NAACP, 1953-1974," an oral history conducted in 1984 in Citizen Advocacy Organizations , 1960-1975, Regional Oral History Office, University of California, Berkeley, 1987.

NAACP Region I Office Staff

Regional Directors/ Secretaries Noah Webster Griffin, 1944-1950 Franklin Williams, 1950-September 1959 Tarea Hall Pittman, September 1959-1961 (Acting), 1961-July 1965 Leonard Houston Carter, July 1965-April 1974 Virna M. Canson, 1974-1988 Field Directors/ Secretaries Lester Bailey, 1952-February 1958 Tarea Hall Pittman, 1952-September 1959 Noah Webster Griffin, 1957 (temporary assignment) K. Carl Thomas (Regional Director of Political Education and Research), 1958 Everett P. Brandon, June 1958-1960 Rev. Ellis H. Casson, August 1959-1962 Althea T. L. Simmons (Southern & Southwest Areas), 1961-1965 Scipio Porter, Jr., 1963-May 1964 Elsie Reed, February-March 1966 Oakareda P. Thomas (Special Campaign Director, Los Angeles), 1966 Loring D. Emile (Southern Area), March 1966-February 1967 William Martin, 1966-March 1967 Charles B. Mays, 1966-June 1967 Jesse D. Scott (Southern Area), May 1967-May 1970 Joseph L. Howerton, May 1967-March 1968 Virna M. Canson (Legislative Advocate, Sacramento), July 19679 -19749 Canson was employed jointly by NAACP and California Committee for Fair Practices March-June 1967. Joyce Mallette (Bailey), May 1968-June 1969 Geraldine Rm. Johnson, 1968 Bettye Black (Field Trainer, Los Angeles), March 1969-circa 1975 Cecil L. McGriff (ROTC Regional Coordinator), circa 1973-1974 Youth Field Directors Michael L. Brodie, March 1968-June 1969 Willis E. Lott, November 1970-September 1971 Duane R. Barnette, March 1972-July 1973 Shauna Gillespie, 1978-1980 Carl Henley, 1980-1982

From the guide to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Region I, records, 1942-1986, 1945-1977, (The Bancroft Library.)

Archival Resources
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