Progress has been made in the struggle for equal opportunity. Gone are the outward signs of discrimination. But events this year reinforce the need to remain vigilant. The end of Justice Department pre-approval for changes in election procedures raised concern and revised memories of the Jim Crow era. News last week from the University of Alabama that traditionally white sororities had denied membership to African American applicants raised other questions of equal opportunity, particularly ironic since this is also the 50th anniversary of George Wallace’s stand in the school house door at the University.
And in this year of anniversaries, the Alabama NAACP will be holding its 61st convention in Talladega next month, in observance of another anniversary in the Civil Rights movement. It was 100 years ago that the first chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was established in the South, and that happened at Talladega College.
William Pickens was a professor of languages at the college, and also a distinguished alumnus of the college. Among his accomplishments as a student were his ability as a public speaker, and the writing of the college’s anthem.
After graduating from Talladega College he attended Yale, but he was not allowed to live on campus there because of his color. He became a founding member of the Niagara Movement, headed by W.E.B. Du Bois, and also became an organizer for the NAACP.
His organizational work cost him his teaching position at Talladega College, and with his departure, the chapter ended. But the history remains, and that will be part of the observance at next month’s conference.
The Rev. Hugh Morris, associate pastor at Mt. Canaan Baptist Church, recounted Talladega’s historical connection to the NAACP in his efforts to bring this year’s convention to his hometown. He serves as a second vice president in the organization, serving on both the executive committee and standing committee as the Religious Affairs Chair.
Gov. Robert Bentley is scheduled to speak at the event, which is to be held at the Community Life Center of Mt. Canaan Baptist Church. The theme of this year’s conference centers on voting rights, “Our Vote is Our Right, Not a Racial Entitlement.”
The convention’s oratorical contest for young people is on the theme ending violence.
Resolutions and other business will come before the hundreds expected to attend, and a number of state awards are to be presented.
Most of all, members will be reminded of their mission to pursue equal rights for all and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination. A century after William Pickens, and a half century after King’s words reverberated around the world, the challenge remains.