We celebrate the centennial of the NAACP’s Silent Protest Parade, held on July 28, 1917.
At the break of summer 1917, racial tension simmered across the nation. In East St. Louis, white residents launched a bloody attack on the rapidly expanding black community. Dozens of black residents were killed and thousands more were left homeless after their neighborhood was burned to ashes.
The NAACP wasted no time in composing a retort and soon issued a call for a Silent Protest Parade. “You must be in line,” the Association commanded.
On July 28, nearly 10,000 black men, women, and children wordlessly paraded down New York’s Fifth Avenue. Silently marching to the beat of a drum, the throngs of protesters clutched picket signs declaring their purpose and demanding justice.
“Make America safe for democracy.”
“We march because we deem it a crime to be silent in the face of such barbaric acts.”
“We march because we want our children to live in a better land.”
Their tactic was silence, but their message resounded: anti-black violence is unjust and un-American.
It was the first protest of its kind in New York, and the second instance of African Americans publically demonstrating for civil rights.
The NAACP has issued marching orders many times in the years since: in 1965, we marched in Selma in pursuit of our right to vote; in 2012, we held a second Silent March in New York to denounce stop-and-frisk policing; in 2015, we marched 1,002 miles from Selma to Washington, D.C. on our Journey for Justice.
At our 108th Annual Convention in Baltimore this week, we marked the Silent Parade’s centennial with an interactive art installation. Art Force 5 invited convention attendees to collaborate on a mosaic memorial that will debut today in New York City.
Activists created the NAACP in 1909 to fight racialized violence. Then, we called it “lynching.” Today, we call it “police brutality.” But the effect is the same, and so is the ferocity of our retort.
For more than a century, the NAACP has protested, litigated, and legislated to defend our dignity and our lives. Today, we keep marching. We are at school board meetings, county courthouses, and in the halls of government fighting for our rights because we still cannot afford to stand idle in the face of an administration that is so keen on rolling back our rights.
We’re marching. And we need you beside us.