Persona Non Grata
Persona Non Grata
Jane Bolin and the NAACP, 1931–50
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter considers Jane Bolin's service within the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her relationship with the NAACP's national leadership, and how she became “persona non grata” to an organization with which she was affiliated since childhood. By examining Bolin's membership and leadership in the New York branch, the chapter uncovers her philosophy of leadership and its authority over her abrupt resignation from the NAACP in 1950. Such an examination would enrich any analysis of a NAACP leadership model and even complicate the tendency to essentialize early black leadership. The key point here is not about how an independently vocal female African American jurist rose to prominence in the NAACP, but how and why she plummeted to the depths of its disregard.
African American women have always boasted a strong presence in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). From its inception women have played key roles. They numbered among those who signed the Call for the National Negro Conference in 1909 that led to the formation of the NAACP, which was organized in response to two days of racial violence in Springfield, Illinois, in August 1908. Of the founding members, women comprised a full third, representing leadership in suffrage, settlement-house work, child-labor activism, and racial reform.1 Two were African American women—Mary Church Terrell of Washington, D.C., and Ida B. Wells-Barnett of Chicago—who both actively participated in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) as leaders, speakers, and liaisons with local reform organizations.2 Terrell and Wells-Barnett served on the twenty-one-member executive committee with five white women, while the sixty-six-member general committee included Maria Baldwin of Boston; Maritcha Lyons and Mary Talbert of New York; and Elizabeth Carter, leader of the New Bedford Club.3
Nevertheless, from all accounts, black women predominated in traditional female roles as fundraisers and proselytizers, which did not generally lead to greater influence in the national headquarters. They were, however, effective in tying the NAACP to the communities, which in turn created a black-led NAACP.4 Terrell served on the board of directors in the decade after the organization’s founding. Yet, as historian Thomas Holt notes, the singular irony is that a race woman like Wells-Barnett, “the most prominent voice opposing lynching over the preceding decade and the most persistent advocate of a national organization to combat racial oppression, was not among the leaders of the NAACP.”5
(p.80) It is therefore significant that a generation later, Jane Bolin, an African American woman of singular judicial prominence and equally outspoken, would be among the national leadership of the NAACP. An active member of the New York Branch of the NAACP and a recent judicial appointee, her nomination for election to the board of directors came as no surprise. The stipulation that she was being nominated as “the woman member of the Board of Directors” portended the gender and organizational dynamics of a board that would find itself at odds with Judge Bolin. From this “positioning” within the NAACP leadership Bolin found herself at the center of an intraorganizational conflict that would render her persona non grata to the organizational leadership. It was a controversy the likes of which the NAACP had not experienced since W. E. B. Du Bois resigned in 1935 after he publicly criticized the organization’s lack of a program to address the economic misery of African Americans and advocated for all-black economic initiatives that many believed undermined the NAACP’s commitment to complete integration.
This chapter will examine Bolin’s philosophy of leadership and its authority over her abrupt resignation from the NAACP in 1950. In so doing, it will also examine her membership and leadership in the New York Branch and analyze the branch’s relationship to the national office. An examination of the place reserved for Bolin and how she positions herself within the national leadership is long overdue. Moreover, such an examination would enrich any analysis of an NAACP leadership model and even complicate the tendency to essentialize early black leadership. The question that frames this chapter is not how this independently vocal female African American jurist rose to prominence in the NAACP, but, more important, how and why she plummeted to the depths of its disregard.
To be sure, the NAACP counted African American women among its leadership, though principally as branch directors, youth secretaries, and in other non–policy-effecting positions such as vice presidents. Such notable educators and clubwomen as Mary McLeod Bethune and Nannie Helen Burroughs were among the few African American women who served as vice presidents in the NAACP. The organization’s true leadership, as in its policy-effecting and policy-directing offices, however, seemed reserved for men. Because of gender inequality, women did not have full access to decision making in the national office. Executive custom revealed just how reticent the national office had been in fashioning its decision-making body. A 1943 memorandum from NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White, Assistant Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins, and Special Counsel Thurgood Marshall to the Nominating Committee illustrates the gendered construction of this decision-making body. To elicit support for its recommendation of Judge Bolin for membership on the organization’s board of directors, the executive officers asked the Nominating Committee, which was manned by Messrs. Arthur Spingarn, Charles Toney, A. A. Lucas, James Robinson, Clayborne George, John (p.81) Hall, and Theodore Spaulding, to accept Bolin as their nominee for “the woman member of the Board of Directors for whom the Committee on Nominations left a vacancy.”6
Bolin’s standing in the legal community no doubt influenced her nomination and subsequent election to the NAACP board. She brought with her a sense of commitment that was clearly manifested in her leadership, in the length of her volunteer service to the association, and most importantly in her civil rights crusade as a professional. Conscious of her achievements, the executive officers stated in their recommendation that “Judge Jane M. Bolin of New York City, who both herself and through her family, has had a long record of hard work for the N.A.A.C.P.” and who “is particularly skilled in the problems of domestic relations, being the first colored woman to be appointed to the Domestic Relations Court in New York City,” was qualified to serve as a member of its national board of directors.7
Not surprisingly, her first appointment as a board member was to the Committee on Delinquency, where she worked closely with Hubert Delany, her judicial colleague and friend who would become an important advocate against the machinery of the national office. This appointment, on its face, was not unlike Bolin’s appointment to the Legal Advisory Committee of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), where she served with other African American women lawyers such as Sadie Alexander and Eunice Carter. It was within a few months of Bolin’s appointment to the Domestic Relations Court when Mary McLeod Bethune designated her as a legal advisor, who would be able “to study bills relating to women and to interpret them for benefit of the Council.”8 The NCNW clearly intended to make use of Bolin’s legal expertise, and although her standing in the legal profession would not have been totally irrelevant to the council, it was not intended to be a substitute for her actual contribution as a legal advisor.
To the contrary, Bolin’s nomination to the NAACP board may have been intended for reasons other than those associated with her leadership in the NCNW. Perhaps her nomination to the NAACP board was also intended to curtail her outspokenness on behalf of the branches by bringing her into the fold of the national office. To one less committed, membership in the national leadership may have signaled an end to branch advocacy. But Bolin remained unflinching in her support for the branches, and saw no contradiction in taking that advocacy to the national office. Her backing of the branches, as she saw it, was not at variance with her membership in the national leadership. She was therefore eager to take up her responsibilities as a national board member.
Jane Bolin’s involvement with the NAACP dated back to her childhood in Poughkeepsie. Her family’s intimate involvement with the association preceded her personal commitment to the organization, and no doubt inspired her active (p.82) participation. In 1931 she and several family members joined with a representative number of Poughkeepsie’s prominent black families to found the Dutchess County Branch of the NAACP.9 The leaders of Poughkeepsie’s elite group formed the nucleus of this chapter. The newly established branch named her brother, Gaius Charles Bolin Jr., president; Dr. Robert Wesley Morgan, vice president; Eleanor Vaughn, secretary; and Marie Anderson, treasurer.10
Shortly after the founding of the Dutchess County Branch, Jane Bolin’s sister Ivy headed the committee in charge of the branch’s Junior Division, which, by 1935, appeared to be the only vibrant organizational representation the NAACP had in Dutchess County for a while.11 Under Ivy’s guidance, the Junior Division had inaugurated the Phyllis Wheatley Scholarship Fund for promising black youth wishing to go to college, and had earned the respect of the national office, which saw the group as the only hope for resuscitating the regular branch.
The vitality of the Dutchess County Branch had not grown much since its founding. The Dutchess County area was decidedly conservative, winning small battles for integration, but committed to “a quiet and efficient sort of pressure.”12 When the national office suggested a meeting with the branch shortly after its founding, the response was lukewarm. Branch members explained to the national office that “conditions here in this County are not perfect, but as it is a small community the newspapers would take up any such meetings as you desire and any definite propaganda might create an atmosphere that would be harder to overcome than if we went to work quietly and tried to overcome the smaller things that stand in the way of our people getting certain kinds of employment in this County.”13
Gaius Bolin Sr. seemed far less concerned about the sensibilities of the white residents when, a few months after the branch was established, he requested information about the Scottsboro case from the national office in an effort to acquaint local members with the NAACP’s attempts to protect the rights of the Scottsboro defendants and to urge branch participants to subscribe to The Crisis, the official organ of the NAACP. Although the Communist Party’s International Labor Defense (ILD) had taken the lead in defending the nine young African American men accused of raping two young white women, the NAACP involved itself with fundraising as it fought to wrest control from the ILD. Consequently, even new branches like that in Poughkeepsie raised money for the NAACP’s Scottsboro defense fund, while at the same time increasing subscriptions to The Crisis.14
Gaius Sr. had made The Crisis accessible to his own family for years, and had used it and open debates at home to expose his children to the works of the NAACP, to nurture in them a commitment to its ideological and programmatic goals of bringing about a racially egalitarian society. Jane Bolin’s early socialization, reading The Crisis regularly, and knowing that “there were people like Dr. Du Bois (p.83) on a larger scale and my father on a smaller scale who were uncompromising and tireless in fighting for the democratic ideal” certainly shaped her subsequent twenty years of commitment to the NAACP.15 She became active in the New York Branch of the NAACP when she relocated to New York City in 1932 upon passing the bar examination. Bolin moved up the organizational ranks of the NAACP almost as quickly as she did the professional ranks of her career. To be sure, her rise in the NAACP seemed to have occurred concurrently with her rise in the legal profession. In 1937 (the same year that she was appointed assistant corporation counsel), she joined the New York Branch’s leadership when she was elected first vice president and a member of the executive committee.
By 1945 when Jane Bolin was elected to the NAACP’s national board of directors, she was already serving as second vice president of the New York Branch. Elected to a three-year term as a national board member, Bolin was suddenly positioned among the national leadership with whom she had dissented on behalf of the branches, particularly the New York Branch, for more than a decade. Working closely with the likes of Judge Hubert Delany and Lindsay White of the New York Branch, she had developed a reputation for being an outspoken advocate of the branches.
Bolin knew firsthand just how important and indispensable the branches were to the success of the NAACP. Through countless volunteers the branches had sustained the organization. From fundraising to membership drives, the branches made it possible for the national organization to sustain its commitment to the struggle for full citizenship. All funds raised by branches were to be shared equally with the national office.16 But Bolin believed that the national office did not always respect the branches’ commitment to the program of the NAACP. For years she had observed and criticized the prevailing attitude that “the branches should raise money for the national organization and do whatever work they are asked to do by the national organization but are arrogantly overstepping their bounds if they make suggestions or protests to the national office.”17 Much like Ella Baker, former field secretary and director of branches, Bolin adhered to the principles of participatory democracy, and as such resented what she saw as the “contemptuous and scornful attitude on the part of the paid staff and a majority of the Board toward the NAACP Branches and people who work in the branches.”18
The national office and the New York Branch of the NAACP were both located in New York City, which presented its own peculiar dynamics. Moreover, having national board members who also assumed great saliency in the New York Branch leadership magnified problems that were inherent in an organization constructed with clear internal hierarchies. Disagreement over and dissatisfaction with the exercise of authority were inevitable, as with any decision-making institution. But being housed in the same city seemed to have compounded whatever disagreements (p.84) existed between the New York Branch and the national office—so much so that the chairman of the Committee on Branches once proposed that an arbitration committee be set up to discuss the differences (labeled by the press an ongoing feud) that continued to arise between the national office and the Harlem Branch.19 Problems ranged from the commingling of national and branch funds to the branch’s unauthorized protest actions that included the picketing of the Faye Loevin Women’s Apparel Shop in Harlem, which resulted in a $100,000 legal suit against the New York Branch and the National Office. The New York Branch even asked the board of directors in 1949 for the ouster of NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White because of “the bad publicity centered around him and the crippling effect it had on their membership and fund-raising campaigns.”20 In a memorandum to the National Board of Directors, the branch stated, “Be assured the New York Branch does not intend to be presumptuous. However, its position is unique in that it functions within the shadow of the National Office and quickly receives any repercussions, favorable or unfavorable, that come as a result of any action of the N.A.A.C.P. or paid member of the personnel.” In an internal national office memorandum addressed to Roy Wilkins, Director of Branches Gloster Current dismissed the branch’s charge as an excuse for its unsuccessful membership campaign that he blamed on a failure to organize properly.21
Like Judge Bolin, Judge Hubert Delany and A. Philip Randolph numbered among the New York Branch leaders who also held positions on the national level. And like Bolin, they saw no contradiction in their concurrent service. But to many they wore hats of competing authority that intensified existing tensions between the branch and national office. The national office, through Acting Secretary Roy Wilkins, regularly questioned the loyalty of its board members who were too vocal on branch issues, and had even been accused once of verbally spanking Lindsay White, president of the New York Branch, “as though he were a school boy” because he requested strict protocol in the matter of an independent petition to renominate Jane Bolin to the national board.22
Judge Delany, a longtime member and committee chair in the New York Branch, was upbraided on several occasions for his close involvement with branches, although at the time he was chairman of the board’s Committee on Branches. Delany worked closely with the New York Branch to cultivate a better working relationship between it and the national office. But he detected only deep resentment on Wilkins’s part for “attempting to revitalize the effectiveness of the Association and to bring the branches and the National Office into closer harmony.”23 In a three-page reprimand Wilkins flatly accused Delany of being “an outright spokesman and protagonist for the New York Branch” while serving as a national board member.24 Referring to the concerns Delany raised at a board meeting, Wilkins said, “At no time and on no question did you give the impression that you were a (p.85) part of the national policy-making and administrative machinery of the National Association.”25 Without apology and in a four-page response, Delany informed Wilkins as Bolin had done before that “the problem the Association faces now, in my view, is for the staff of the National Office to recognize that the branches are an integral part of the Association without which we cannot function effectively, and that the complaints of the officers and members of the branches are entitled to careful consideration and not arbitrary actions.”26
While a New York Branch officer, Bolin had offered similar advice to the national office about innumerable branch complaints that their correspondence went unanswered—or was answered in a sarcastic, insulting manner.27 In one such instance, the national office had ignored for over a year the New York Branch’s request for a conference to meet with board representatives and staff to iron out conflicting and overlapping problems of the two offices.28
Being elected a board member did not suddenly nor over time stifle Bolin’s critique of the national office. If anything, being a board member sharpened her critique. Many might have expected that she would be co-opted by the board to stand against the branches. But a simple board membership, however significant, could not sway Bolin’s commitment to the democratic principles that defined the NAACP’s very existence. Never able to turn a blind eye to board malfeasance, Bolin dissented continuously while a board member. “I could not sanction the paid staff overwhelming the Board to the extent of usurping the Board’s function of making policy,” she wrote to Arthur Spingarn. “Nor could I condone the practice of the Executive Secretary, as revealed by a member of the Board, calling together in advance of a Board meeting a secret gathering of a selected few Board members to inform them what would be on the agenda at the Board meeting and what action he wanted the Board to take.” Bolin did not appreciate the “contemptuous and scornful attitude on the part of the paid staff and a majority of the Board toward the NAACP Branches and people who work in the branches.” She was unequivocal in her conviction that the NAACP uphold democratic procedures within its own organizational setup, because as she saw it, “an authoritative set-up, whether Fascist, Communist, or NAACP is abhorrent.”29
It had become clear to Bolin and others, like Delany, that the “Hague attitude of ‘I Am the Law’” that Wilkins and some board members exhibited had begun to adversely affect membership and thus the buoyancy of the organization as the branches were not going to stand for such treatment for much longer.30 One of the complaints of both board members and the branches was that the national officers seemed to feel that they controlled the association and were within their rights to liquidate those who disagreed with the board. Delany believed that if the board’s relationship with the branches was more cordial and respectful, “our membership would not be dropping at such [an] alarmingly rapid rate.”31 What (p.86) Bolin and Delany witnessed was the damaging effect that such an attitude had on branch operations. They both rejected the association’s published membership of 500,000 in 1949, identifying 150,000 as a more accurate number.32
Wilkins refused to consider that the decrease in membership could be remotely related to any “high and mighty” attitude of the national office. Instead he pointed to the inordinate latitude permitted in the operations of local branches in many areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. In a letter to Delany he insisted that many factors had entered into the decline in membership, not the least of which was maladministration in Chicago, high salaries and an ineffective local program in Detroit, a strike against a fifteen-year branch president in Los Angeles, and what he (Wilkins) saw as failed membership drives in the New York Branch, whose “concentration on a raffle which raised $10,000 for the Harlem Branch treasury … did not secure any members.”33 Despite his effort to dispel any suggestion that the attitude of the national office contributed to the decrease in association membership, Wilkins had conceded that indeed there was a grave decline in numbers. Nevertheless, as he told William Gibson, editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, in 1950: “I should like to point out that if the NAACP national office had a consistent policy of ‘contemptuous and arrogant’ treatment of branches of the Association, we would—by this time—have no branches, no support, no members, no money. Instead, we have more than 1,200 functioning units, 28 state organizations as going concerns, and are in the process of holding five regional conferences.”34
Bolin’s analysis of the decrease in membership was more programmatically informed. She truly believed that the NAACP program had become “sterile and barren,” and considered this a major reason for the drop in numbers from nearly half a million to about 125,000. “The only part of the NAACP which is not pro-grammatically bankrupt today,” she said in a letter to Arthur Spingarn, “is its legal department which is doing an important and superb job. This, however is limited in scope and the NAACP in my opinion can no longer justify its failures in larger areas by the success of its legal arm in its limited area.”35
Like Hubert Delany, Bolin was completely opposed to the elitist leadership that assumed that “all the brains in the NAACP lie only in the national Board and staff.” In an open letter, she reminded President Arthur Spingarn that as “a member of nearly twenty years standing in the Poughkeepsie and New York Branches I have seen too many earnest people working on a volunteer basis with sincere devotion to the program of the NAACP to subscribe to these attitudes of the national organization.”36 She believed strongly that branch positions and requests should be thoughtfully and respectfully considered, if for no other reason than the fact of their service to the organization.
(p.87) If the NAACP national office was the sum of its separate parts, then it remained a very divided whole for the duration of Jane Bolin’s tenure. While thoroughly committed to the association ideologically, in administrative matters Bolin constantly challenged the “principle of centrality” that left the branches in a perpetually subordinate position to the national office.37 Bolin believed in “participatory democracy,” a philosophy of leadership that Carol Mueller attributes to Ella Baker, former NAACP field secretary and director of branches.38 Baker may have given formal statement to what Bolin practiced and fought for as an NAACP member and officer. What is certain is that in the pre–civil rights era, a cadre of progressive African American women challenged the leadership structure of the nation’s premier civil rights organization.
As a board member, Bolin was a policy maker, and theoretically better positioned as a peer to effectively dissent and protest in behalf of the branches, especially the New York Branch.39 But precisely because of this dissidence, grounded in her philosophy of leadership, she was positioned as an “outsider within” the inner circle of NAACP national leadership. Furthermore, dissenting from the seat left for “the woman member” proved to be a source of profound irritation and embarrassment for the national office, which was therefore committed to ending her tenure as board member even if it meant compromising democratic principles.
What occurred during Bolin’s second term of office, despite efforts to secure her renomination, was the uncharacteristic removal of an incumbent board member despite having the highest attendance record of any renominated board member. Bolin was first considered for board membership in 1943 when the executive officers recommended her to the Nominating Committee for nomination in February 1944. Duly elected at the NAACP Annual Meeting on January 2, 1945, she assumed office for a three-year term to end December 31, 1947.40 She was actually still serving her second term when the decision was made to remove her from the board. However, in removing Bolin’s name from the ballot for renomination, the Nominating Committee had not anticipated just how belligerent her supporters would become. More importantly, the committee could not have predicted that their decision would have met a challenge of public proportion. At most, the committee probably imagined some minor opposition from a few board members, such as Delany, whom they hoped to placate with Bolin’s subsequent appointment as an NAACP vice president. They could not have been more wrong on all counts.
The headline in the Afro-American on October 8, 1949, read “REMOVAL OF JUDGE BOLIN FROM NAACP BOARD BARED.” According to the accompanying article, an unidentified source revealed that the NAACP seven-man Nominating Committee had moved to drop Judge Jane Bolin as a member of the board of directors.41 (In (p.88) actuality, by a 4 to 3 vote the committee had agreed not to recommend Judge Bolin for another term. The failure to renominate her was in fact a tie vote, with the tie broken by a vote of Dr. J. L. Leach, the committee chairman.)42 But even the legitimacy of this vote was called into question. What was supposed to be strictly internal association business, not yet authorized for release, had suddenly become available for public consumption and criticism. To make matters worse, neither the standing board collectively, nor Judge Bolin individually, had been notified of the committee’s action. As a result, Bolin found out about her ouster through the morning paper and not by internal memorandum.
According to the source, Bolin had been dropped as a board member after a staff meeting was called at the national office where it was stated that “Bolin has to go.” It was further reported that two top staff members at that meeting opposed Judge Bolin’s continuance as a board member on the ground that “we can’t get along with her.”43 The reference to a staff meeting, and not necessarily a Nominating Committee meeting, suggested that members of the paid staff (as in the executive or acting secretary) might have discussed their position on Bolin’s renomination with select members of the committee in an effort to influence the committee’s decision. Judge Delany, staunch Bolin supporter and member of the Nominating Committee, had no knowledge of the meeting in question. Tantamount to abdication by the board to the staff, such a meeting would not have been uncommon, but characteristic of the lack of propriety Bolin so often challenged throughout her tenure with the NAACP.44
Bolin welcomed cooperation between the board and the staff. She only objected to situations like the one reported in the Afro-American, and similar incidents, such as the executive secretary calling secret meetings in advance of board meetings to inform board members of what action he wanted them to take.45 Like Judge Delany, her partner in protest, Judge Bolin respected the board of directors as the association’s policy-making body and therefore expected the staff to carry out policy without attempting to undermine or in anyway interfere with the board’s responsibilities.46
As soon as the story broke, rumors and whispers about the clandestine operations of the Nominating Committee circulated freely. As a result, the national office found itself under the microscope. The board of directors called a meeting on October 10, 1949, where Judge Bolin asked to speak on a point of personal privilege. She began by saying that she was not addressing her remarks to the action of the Nominating Committee in failing to renominate her. She had accepted their decision, or so it seemed. Her remarks were, instead, “to the article on page 1 of this week’s Afro-American, which I am sure all of you have seen.” She reminded the board that she was obviously not present when the Nominating Committee made its recommendation, yet “to date I have not been officially notified (p.89) of the failure of the Committee on Nominations to redesignate me—although the press was notified at once.”47 Bolin made full use of the platform she had; without wavering, she announced that the information must have been given to the press by some member of the staff who was present at both meetings. (This type of behavior was not uncommon, and maybe that made it more revolting to her. As she recalled, not quite a month previously, a press release circulated days before a board meeting stating that the board had selected Roy Wilkins as acting executive secretary.) Although Bolin was not asking for action to be taken against whomever was responsible for such a leak, she felt obliged to share with the board that “one of the most outstanding members of our race and a founder of the NAACP, Dr. Du Bois, was summarily dismissed by this Board for letting something get to the press before it had gone through the proper channels.”48
Bolin was not so much concerned about the lack of respect shown her as she was about the staff interference in the Nominating Committee’s business. It was ironic that the very practice she challenged throughout her tenure with the NAACP should be the reason for her demise organizationally. “Since I have been on this Board,” Bolin said, “I have been called on by people who are nationally known in the field of social action to justify the domination of the organization by the staff.” She could not justify the action, and was not about to apologize for the action because for her it represented a complete reversal of the traditional functions of a policy-making board and a policy-executing staff—a clear situation of “the tail wagging the dog rather than the dog wagging the tail.”49
“We do have a reputation,” she informed the board, “for being a supine board of puppets which does everything expected of us by the executive secretary and his staff.”50 At this moment, Bolin had a captive audience, one that she would no longer have at the close of her term on the board. More importantly, she stood before a board made vulnerable because of its own deeds. It could not, in good faith, dismiss her remarks because, quite simply, the verdict was in and the evidence was in black and white on the pages of the black press. The October meeting was the opportune time for Bolin to set the entire board straight, one last time, on her integrity as a board member and to distinguish her service from theirs. Thus, in closing at the meeting, she declared:
I must say I feel we are not meeting the obligation we have to the masses of the people. Yet I have not gone out and tried to operate behind the scenes. I have said what I had to say right in this room. I have not tried to engage any member of the board or staff in any politics. I have not gone to the press with my differences of opinion. In fact, at least two members of the Board can affirm that when they wanted to go to the press with their differences of opinion, I discouraged it when my advice was sought. I have been very outspoken in what I have to say. I have been so not because of any personal hostility towards any member of the staff or (p.90) Board. I was expressing myself the only way I know how in the interest of the masses of the people who are clamoring for the attention of this association, but are not receiving it.51
No sooner had this board meeting adjourned than there appeared in the New York Amsterdam News an account of matters discussed there, with specific reference to the remarks made by Judge Bolin. This prompted the acting secretary to state openly at the November board meeting (at which Bolin was conspicuously absent without regret), that “someone is giving out information that is detrimental to the Association … the Board should realize that it is creating publicity which is hurting the Association, and which is making it very difficult to carry on a program.”52
Once leaked, Bolin’s criticism of the NAACP seemed to galvanize the branches even as it alienated the national office. The Atlanta Daily World likened Judge Bolin to Dr. Du Bois, noting that they were both generally regarded as “persona non grata” at the national headquarters of the NAACP. The newspaper reported that “battle lines between the national office of the NAACP and its local branches were more tightly drawn … as nineteen of the state’s forty-two branches approved a resolution recommending the placing of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois on the national board of directors of the organization and a move was started to have Judge Bolin placed back on the national board.”53
Since the Nominating Committee failed to recommend Bolin for reelection to the board, the only way for her to get on the ballot (should she desire reelection) was by a petition containing the signatures of at least thirty members who wanted to retain her on the board. The election ballot would go to the branches in December.54 Her supporters wasted no time in securing as many signatures as possible. It is difficult to tell whether Bolin was truly determined to retain her seat on the board or whether she simply acquiesced to the enthusiasm of her constituency. Either way she was on the road to becoming persona non grata to the national office.
By October 28, the New York Branch had submitted a nominating petition with close to one hundred signatures, including those of Hubert Delany, Nominating Committee member; Lindsay White, New York Branch president; Channing Tobias, national assistant treasurer; and Ella Baker, a dedicated member of the New York Branch, who from all accounts shared Bolin’s disdain for the particular style of leadership in the national office.55 Though closer examination revealed duplicate signatures, the petition represented well in excess of the thirty signatures required. The petition, whose preamble read “We, the undersigned members in good standing of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, hereby nominate as a member of its Board of Directors JUDGE (p.91) JANE M. BOLIN,” also included a paragraph detailing the accomplishments of the nominee, a courtesy that was not extended to all other nominees.56 The petition submitted by the Jamaica Branch of the NAACP did not include a paragraph like that in the New York Branch’s petition, but it did have more than the thirty required signatures.57
The national office tried to not arouse further the ire of the New York Branch. Moreover, it wanted to avoid any further appearance of impropriety regarding the election. Following the branch’s submission of the nominating petition, Roy Wilkins supposedly sang the praises of a favored nominee publicly from his desk in the national office. His public support of one nominee over others was a conflict of interest that was not lost on Hubert Delany. “I also consider that it was improper in a recent release going out from the National Office about two weeks ago [early November] to pick out one nominee from along all the rest, and tell of his great work for the Association,” he told Wilkins. “If that is democracy, then I think we need a new definition of democracy for the Association.”58
The New York Branch was equally vigilant in holding the national office to strict administrative propriety. Along with the petitions were forms to be signed by the acting secretary upon his receipt of said petitions. Though Wilkins obliged, he could not contain his outrage at such a request. In a letter to Lindsay White, New York Branch president, Wilkins said he had never before been asked by a branch to provide a signed receipt for a petition of nomination. “The implications contained in this request from you are not pleasant,” he told White, “nor do they reflect favorably upon you or the New York Branch or any other agents for whom you may have been acting.”59 With obvious reference to Bolin, Wilkins went on to say, “The National Office has never been accused of ‘losing’ a petition, or suppressing one, or in any fashion interfering with the constitutional right of 30 or more persons to make independent nominations. To have you or the New York Branch or any other persons involved in this transaction so crudely imply that dishonesty and mishandling could be expected is indicative … of the origin of the alleged difficulties between the New York Branch and the National Office.”60 It should not have been difficult for Wilkins to conceive of the national office mishandling information since its current practices had thrust private association business onto the press. Less than a month earlier those practices had prompted Bolin to demand a correction of the minutes to indicate her presence at the board’s November meeting.61
White simply chalked up such invective to Wilkins’s being “hypersensitive.” Though sincerely concerned about the implications of dishonesty imputed to his office, Wilkins was even more concerned that his signature, acknowledging the receipt of the petitions, could be construed as something more. But, as White (p.92) told him, “To think that your signature meant anything else is difficult to reconcile with reason.”62
Some members of the Nominating Committee were not willing to defer totally to the prescribed election process. In an effort to seal the outcome of the election, the national office, through the agency of committee chairman Dr. J. L. Leach and committee secretary Daisy Lampkin, sent out a craftily worded letter to all branches, asking them to vote for the nominees presented by the Nominating Committee and to ignore the New York Branch petition, saying it was trying to undermine the committee’s process. The letter stated, “Your Committee was not aware of any New York feud that may or may not have been going on. Our business, as the elected representatives of the convention and of the Board, was to try to select good nominations to the Board.”63
Though sent out in an official capacity, this letter did not necessarily represent the opinions of all seven members of the Nominating Committee nor the national office as a whole. Yet the impression was that it did. As a result, the national office became further embroiled in this cauldron of controversy. After all, if the national office supported this letter, then implicitly, it also condoned interference with the election process. As will be seen from the New York Branch’s response, at least five national officers were willing to publicly accuse the national office of doing just that.64 The letter further polarized the Nominating Committee, which was already sharply divided on the issue of Judge Bolin’s renomination to the board. The letter also elicited a similarly crafted and more direct letter from the New York Branch.
The New York Branch’s letter was similarly addressed to branch presidents who were asked to “bring this matter to the attention of your Executive Committee and read this letter to the membership at the annual meeting just before the ballots are distributed and before the votes are cast for the members of the National Board of Directors.”65 The architects of this letter were Judge Hubert Delany, James E. Allen, William Lloyd Imes, Earl B. Dickerson, and Lindsay H. White, four of whom were currently affiliated with the national office. The exception was Lindsay White, president of the New York Branch.
The authors framed the content of their protest with the following opening sentence: “This letter trumpets the call to action of every Branch as we face a great democratic crisis in the N.A.A.C.P. today.”66 In their estimation, members of the Nominating Committee had gone to great lengths to deny the NAACP an outstanding leader in Judge Bolin. Therefore, acting with due authority, and with endorsements from prominent national officers, the New York Branch assumed the responsibility for exposing the politics surrounding the Nominating Committee’s failure to renominate Judge Bolin to the board of directors. The branch had surreptitiously secured a list from the national office of the officers of all NAACP (p.93) branches across the country and proceeded to counteract the impact of Dr. Leach and Daisy Lampkin’s letter. The New York Branch wanted all other branches to know that Leach and Lampkin’s letter was unauthorized and that an unauthorized letter was sent on the official stationery of the NAACP only substantiated what they had suspected all along, “that Judge Jane M. Bolin after serving twelve years on the Executive Committee of the New York Branch and five years on the National Board was not renominated because of the opposition of some of the top national office paid staff. … Even if the letter purporting to come from the Nominating Committee was authorized—and it was not—it would in effect be attempting to prevent the election of any candidates nominated by the Branch by independent petition as provided for in the N.A.A.C.P. Constitution.”67
The New York Branch saw the Nominating Committee’s vote against Bolin as a direct result of the political engineering of top paid staff in the national office. And, before ballots would be cast, they wanted all association members to know that the opposition to Bolin “was based on Judge Bolin’s fighting in the National Board for greater democratic participation by the Branches in the policies and work of the N.A.A.C.P.” (emphasis mine). They underscored the fact that “Judge Bolin has always insisted that the people in the branches be regarded as more than just fund raisers for the national staff but rather as interested citizens working toward the professed goals of the N.A.A.C.P.”68
The association’s membership, “the principal stockholders” of the organization, would determine who would represent them on the board of directors. Yet, as late as early December, though all branches had received letters from the New York Branch as well as Leach and Lampkin, several branches had not received an official ballot. In a letter to the national office, dated November 25, the president of the Williamsport Branch, Reverend Madison Bowe, informed National Youth Secretary Ruby Hurley that while he had not received the list of candidates, “we have had two letters, one from the New York Branch and one from the Nominating Committee, I believe from your office, recommending certain persons for the Executive Board for the next term and to me they are conflicting.”69
This “New York” feud between the branch and the national office had touched and even disturbed the confidence of the association’s membership. Which letter were branches supposed to believe? Could they accept the veracity of the New York Branch and still remain loyal to the association? Could they obtain unbiased clarification on issues that both letters raised? Would questioning the national office automatically make their branch suspect in the eyes of the national office? Was there sufficient time to investigate all relevant issues before the December 31 deadline for ballot submission? These were only a few of the questions confronting the branches. And if they hoped to have a truly informed ballot, those and many more questions would have to be answered.
(p.94) With an impending deadline, many branches probably just chalked up the conflicting letters to a New York City problem involving a New York Branch nominee and bowed out of further inquiry. But at least one branch chose an informed ballot over a merely on-time ballot. A very telling letter was sent to the national office from Everett R. Lawrence, president of the Merrimack Valley Branch in Andover, Massachusetts, on November 21. Though the Merrimack Valley Branch had received the official ballot and had started to vote on it, the branch decided to table the vote until its December meeting or until such time as all issues raised in both letters were addressed. Lawrence said, “As it stands now, no one knows whether to believe that the Committee actually did act in the best interests of the Association,—did consider each nominee fairly. Whom do we believe? Do you feel that this is the sort of action that builds confidence in our National Staff? Do you realize that this questionable business offers just the argument needed for those who are reluctant to join?—that it is just this sort of childish bickering that has many of your supporting branches on their heels?”70
Roy Wilkins was unable to assuage the concerns of the Merrimack Valley Branch with perfunctory statements about the recalcitrance of a “problem child” branch because Lawrence clearly stated: “I expect an explanatory reply to present to my Branch at our December meeting, and I will not consider a form letter as a satisfactory means of supplying the answers to my direct questions.”71 Wilkins promised to pass on Lawrence’s letter directly to the chairman of the Nominating Committee, whom he supposed was better situated than he to answer the branch’s inquiries without it being “branded immediately as an unwarranted attempt, on the part of an employed staff member who is already accused of bias, to influence a situation.”72 But, interestingly, Chairman Leach might not have been the most objective person at that particular time to answer the concerns of the branches. He was, after all, a party to the controversy that had ensued. As it turned out, Judge Delany’s earlier proposal of an arbitration committee may have been the fairest, though not the most efficient, way to handle the root of the problem that had surely tainted the election.
Delany, who served on the Nominating Committee with Leach, Lampkin, Joshua Thompson, Rosa Johnson, W. K. Saxon, and Alfred Baker Lewis, sought to distance himself from the committee’s decision denying renomination to Bolin. He had announced bluntly in the Nomination Committee’s infamous meeting that he would “help Judge Bolin fight” for reelection.73 Delany was clearly one of the committee members who voted to retain Judge Bolin as a member of the board. He had even lent his name to the New York Branch’s letter of response, along with James E. Allen, William Lloyd Imes, Earl B. Dickerson, and Lindsay H. White. Later, he questioned whether the proceedings that resulted in the committee’s 4 to 3 vote against Bolin’s renomination were valid. As he recalled, at no (p.95) time before or during deliberations was there a committee secretary, a title he says Lampkin later assumed for the single purpose of lending legitimacy to the letter she and Leach wrote. In addition, he noted that the committee chairman was unilaterally selected by Roy Wilkins who was present during deliberations.74
In a letter to Wilkins that threatened to expose his interference, Delany said, “I think it will be you who will need to do some explaining as to why a duly authorized committee of the Board and the convention proceeds to conduct its business pursuant to your selection of the Chairman, and after the business is completed proceeds then to select a Secretary.” To support his charge, Delany recounted the following to Wilkins: “At 10 o’clock there were three persons seated on each side of the table where the Committee sat, which table was adjoining your desk. At about 5 minutes passed [sic] 10, as Dr. Leach came in, you arose and said substantially, ‘Dr. Leach, we have a seat ready for you. You may act as Chairman.’ And Dr. Leach proceeded to act as Chairman, pursuant to your designation.”75 Such an indictment might have had more currency had Delany not participated in the proceedings he later discredited. Yet, he hoped that by putting the information before the branches that somehow the masses of association members would “storm the bastille” that was the national office, demanding answers or heads. Instead, either because of too much information, not enough information, not the right information, or simply because of confusion with all of the information, the members voted for the committee’s nominees. As a result, at the January 3, 1950, annual association meeting, Judge Bolin was not reelected to the national board of directors.76
However, at the next board meeting on January 3, 1950, Judge Bolin was elected as one of the association’s vice presidents for the regular one-year term ending December 31, 1950. In his letter of congratulations, Wilkins told Bolin: “Because of your interest and activity in the past, we are confident that in the capacity of a vice-president you will continue to give us your advice and support in the many matters that will come before the Association.”77 Bolin wrote Wilkins the following day inquiring about the duties of vice presidents. Referring to Article IV, Section 2 of the NAACP constitution, which stated, “The Vice Presidents shall perform such functions and exercise such duties as may be voted by the Board of Directors,” Bolin requested that Wilkins send her a copy of the minutes of the meeting at which the board had determined the functions and duties of vice presidents. It is entirely possible that Bolin knew that no such record existed. She may have made the request as a formality in an effort to create a record for herself.78
This simple request sparked a new flame of contention, not wholly unrelated to the issue of Bolin’s removal from the board. Many in the national office saw her inquiry as an affront to the board’s graciousness in electing her a vice president. Not coincidentally, the New York Branch had specified in its letter to all branch presidents months before, “Do not be fooled by the offer of the (p.96) Nominating Committee to make Judge Bolin a Vice-President of the N.A.A.C.P. This is part of their plan to continue to use Judge Bolin’s name and prestige for the benefit of the N.A.A.C.P. while depriving her of participating in making Board policy.”79 Maybe it was hoped that Bolin would have accepted her “consolation prize” of a vice presidency and quietly retired to the letterhead of the association hierarchy. Had she been a person easily swayed and silenced by titles, she might have. But she was not, having always operated with the full force of her office behind her. Therefore, she needed to know exactly what the force, and not merely the title, of her office was. Bolin was also too aware of the internal politics of the association’s national office to simply accept a title without understanding its import and responsibility. What followed was a full-blown intraorganizational conflict that exploded onto the pages of the black press from New York to Kansas City, Missouri.
Within a week of Bolin’s request for the minutes, Wilkins had his secretary call Bolin, not because he had the information she requested, but simply “because she asked for a reply in a week.” This was the kind of paranoia that gripped the national office. A few days later, Wilkins himself wrote to Bolin: “Within my recollection, over the past eighteen years, the Board has not formally determined the functions and duties of Vice Presidents of the Association, or assigned to them any specific tasks.” Wilkins had evidently spoken to President Arthur Spingarn on the matter, and though he also did not recall any board action on this matter, he suggested that maybe the language of Article IV, Section 2 meant only “that the Board might assign such duties from time to time as occasions might arise.”80 The question then still remained: For what duties and functions were vice presidents responsible?
It is entirely possible that Bolin knew the answer to the question. She had clearly worked with many of the association’s vice presidents during her six years as a board member and could easily have tapped her memory on the extent of their involvement in policy making. She may well have been unsure about the actual duties and responsibilities of vice presidents because quite possibly she could not reconcile what she had witnessed as a board member with what others, inside and outside of the New York Branch, were saying. During her time on the board she had observed the mostly male vice presidents who attended board meetings voting without the imposition of any disqualification by the chairman. Yet the New York Branch’s letter to the vice presidents (about which Bolin must have known) stated in relevant part, “This is part of their plan to continue to use Judge Bolin’s name and prestige for the benefit of the N.A.A.C.P. while depriving her of participating in making Board policy—for under the N.A.A.C.P. national constitution Vice-Presidents may not vote!”81
With such conflicting information, it was wise for Bolin to request clarification (p.97) before assuming the office. The national office took the position that vice presidents had no constitutionally assigned duties—but duties could be assigned at the discretion of the board as the occasion arose. Bolin found this position ridiculous. In a letter dated February 8, 1950, to the board chairman Dr. Louis T. Wright, she said, “It is inconceivable and inconsistent that there should be an office in an organization without duties. It must be concluded that since the Board has failed to state specifically the functions of a Vice-President, the generally conceived and publicly accepted meaning of the Office is accepted by the NAACP.” Bolin reasoned that in the absence of explicit duties, vice presidents were bound by the customary practices of the office. She was convinced that this interpretation was also accepted by other vice presidents in the association because, as she recalled, “During my six years as a member of the Board I have observed Vice Presidents attending Board meetings, expressing their valuable opinions and participating in the voting.” Any other interpretation, she believed, would grossly mislead the public because, as she told Dr. Wright, the public believed, and had a right to believe that “any person who accepts election as an officer in the NAACP, as in every other organization, shares in the grave responsibility of making the Association’s policy and in the general administration of its affairs.” With her position clearly stated, Bolin concluded her letter (which was copied to all vice presidents) by accepting the vice presidency “with its concomitant responsibilities, including those of attending Board meetings and discussing and voting on the business of the Association.”82
Having accepted the position of vice president, she attended the national board meeting on February 14, 1950, intent on participating fully in the business of the association. However, when Bolin raised her hand to vote against a motion made by Lampkin, Chairman Wright ruled that as a vice president she was ineligible to vote on the affairs of the association.83 This was a ruling that, by the facts, could not be supported by either association practice or constitutional provision. Wright directed the acting secretary to read Bolin’s letter of February 8 to the entire board. He then asked Special Counsel Thurgood Marshall to read the memorandum that he had been asked to prepare on the issue of vice presidents.84 After hearing both the letter and the memorandum, the board decided as a body that vice presidents could not vote. At that moment, “Judge Bolin asked to be excused from the meeting, stating that she had neither the time nor the desire to sit and listen to the discussions unless she was able to participate by voting.”85
When Bolin left the meeting she had already made the decision to resign. But however quick, her resignation would not be quiet. Hers was a very public resignation, exposing deep fissures in the organization and confirming earlier reports that like Du Bois she too had become an irritant and liability to the national office with every public criticism. A few days after the board meeting, William Imes (p.98) tried to convince Bolin that although she had good and sufficient cause to resign, if she did so she would be doing “just what the reactionary crowd at our NAACP wants you to do.” Imes, who had been a close friend and associate of Bolin’s second husband, Walter Offutt, and a dear friend to Bolin, strongly believed that to save face, the board had made a gesture of their respect for her in the nomination and election to a vice presidency. He was, however, convinced that if Bolin resigned, “even though they have tried to render a vice-presidency innocuous, they will feel they have entirely triumphed over you.” He pleaded with her not to resign, saying, “[The NAACP] needs you and hundreds more like you.”86
Many on the board supported Bolin, but she found staunch supporters in Judge Delany and William Lloyd Imes. Many responses from the other NAACP vice presidents backed Bolin’s position on the duties and responsibilities of the office. Bishop W. J. Walls of Chicago wrote: “Being one of the same status, that is vice-president of the Association, I am naturally interested. I fully agree with the position taken in your letter and will support it unreservedly. I am simply acknowledging same in order to say, more power to you.”87 A. Philip Randolph, one of the elders of the civil rights movement and a national vice president, acknowledged that he too did not know that vice presidents could not vote in the affairs of the association. He echoed Bolin’s admonition that the board be more specific about the duties and responsibilities of the office. Even sitting board member Earl B. Dickerson admitted that he was unsure of the voting rights of vice presidents, and that he had simply referred Judge Bolin to the constitution when she inquired about his opinion on the issue.88
Of course there were those vice presidents who believed that Judge Bolin had read too much into the function of the office. Buell Gallagher, of Washington, D.C., wrote directly to the board chairman saying, “For whatever it is worth, may I enter in the record the fact that, as a Vice-President of the NAACP I have never suffered from the delusion that I had voting power.” He went on to say that if it were physically possible, he would gladly attend meetings regularly for the sole purpose of sharing in the discussion. Gallagher said that he had enough confidence in the democratic process to feel that the intelligent and persuasive statement of a position was the only effectively democratic procedure, and that voting was merely a means of recording the results of sound deliberations. (Gallagher was obviously not familiar with the power of a vote.)
Maybe Gallagher and others like him were willing to sacrifice meaningful input for the sake of powerful titles. Bolin had been both an active branch official and an active national board member and did not have half as much confidence as Gallagher did in the democratic process of the national office. Gallagher believed that the power of a vice president was no more than that of any member not directly elected by the membership, because as he saw it, “Only those who are subject (p.99) to the direct votes of the membership ought to have the power to vote in Board meetings.”89 He seemed unwilling to apply the same logic to the board. Could it be that, like many in the national office, he saw the real power as sitting on the board and not necessarily in the “persuasive” voice of the membership? Gallager’s attitude about surrendering to the “democratic” procedures of the association only reaffirmed what Bolin had been fighting against all along—the notion that all the brains of the association reside only in the national board and staff.
On March 9, 1950, two months after her election as vice president, Judge Bolin formally submitted her resignation in the form of a three-page letter to President Arthur Spingarn.90 She also released the letter to the press in mimeographed copies that were in the hands of newspapers before it was delivered to Spingarn on March 13. By noon that day, the national office had been bombarded with telegrams from newspapers asking for comment on Bolin’s resignation. The Norfolk Journal and Guide wrote: “PLEASE IMMEDIATELY WIRE COMMENT ON RESIGNATION STATEMENT RELEASED BY JUSTICE BOLIN STATEMENT ATTACKS POLICY OF NAACP TOP COMMAND ETC.” The Carolina Times (Durham, North Carolina) made a similar request, as did The Call (Kansas City, Missouri).
The national office wired responses that were mechanical at best. To the Norfolk Journal and Guide, Roy Wilkins wrote: “BOLIN LETTER RELEASED TO PRESS BEFORE IT REACHED BOARD YESTERDAY. REGRET I CANNOT COMMENT. HOWEVER STATEMENT FROM DR. LOUIS T. WRIGHT, CHAIRMAN OF BOARD, WILL BE RELEASED IN TWENTYFOUR HOURS.” To the Carolina Times, he wrote: “REGRET THAT COMMENT ON JUDGE BOLIN LETTER BY CHAIRMAN OF OUR BOARD HELD UP AND CANNOT REACH YOU BY YOUR DEADLINE TONIGHT.” He told reporters for the Baltimore Afro-American and the New York Amsterdam News that he personally could not comment, but that the board had authorized the chairman to issue a statement that would be released in a few days.
Surprised, embarrassed, and exposed, the national office needed time to regroup, but until then Judge Bolin’s letter stood “as a true statement of conditions,” in the absence of any other to refute it.91 Her letter read in part:
As you know I accepted the Vice Presidency with the interpretation of its responsibilities as including that of participating in the business of the association. At the Board meeting on February 14th, the Chairman of the Board ruled that as Vice President I am ineligible to vote on the affairs of the association. In view of Mr. Wilkins’ letter to me of January 23rd stating that the Board had never provided for any duties or functions for Vice Presidents as it is required to do by the NAACP constitution and in view of the Board Chairman’s ruling that Vice Presidents cannot participate in determining policy or program for the organization, I find that twenty Vice Presidents (a ridiculous number) are merely names on NAACP letterheads, used to lend prestige to the association and to mislead the public that these persons (p.100) have responsibility in formulating policy. I refuse to share in this deception and I refuse to let the public hold me in part responsible for the actions of the NAACP without having the power to vote on these actions.
There are several areas in which I have dissented while a Board member. I could not sanction the paid staff overwhelming the Board to the extent of usurping the Board’s function of making policy. As I stated in a Board meeting last year, we have in the NAACP the spectacle of the tail (the staff) wagging the dog (the Board).
Nor could I appreciate the contemptuous and scornful attitude on the part of the paid staff and a majority of the Board toward the NAACP Branches and people who work in the Branches. In other words, all the brains in the NAACP lie only in the national Board and staff.
I am further of the belief that the NAACP program has become sterile and barren and that is a major reason for its membership dropping from nearly a half million to about one-eighth of a million in the last few years. The only part of the NAACP which is not programmatically bankrupt today is its legal department which is doing an important and superb job.
I have become persona non grata to the NAACP hierarchy because of the positions I have taken and I have been duly purged on the Board. … It appears to me that for some time now the NAACP high command has been more interested in personal and political intrigue than it has been in discharging that trust efficiently and to the fullest.92
Bolin did not simply resign as vice president. She used her resignation as a public platform for challenging the structure, program, policies, and leadership of the NAACP. She was not the first African American woman to oppose the style of leadership of the NAACP on the national level, but she was one of the first to do so immediately and publicly. Her tenure of protest on the board had resulted in her removal without personal appeal. But she was determined that her withdrawal from the vice presidency would never be relegated to the margins of internal correspondence. Information about her resignation was therefore not leaked, but well-timed and shared fully with the press. This woman who had always lent her voice to the struggles of others made a decision to speak for herself in a loud, resounding voice. She summarily preempted any misinformation about her resignation by baring all that she had said to the NAACP president. How empowering that must have been for a woman who had only months earlier endured the insult of learning about her impending removal from the national board in the morning paper.
It was now the national office’s turn to play “catch up” with Bolin’s statement that had already saturated the collective consciousness of the association’s membership. The national office had authorized the chairman of the board to issue a statement to get the board’s viewpoint into the newspapers. However, in accordance with (p.101) resolutions passed at the March 13 board meeting, the statement was withheld pending a committee conference with Bolin. At that meeting, Arthur Spingarn made a motion (seconded by Judge William Hastie, an early black cabinet member) that the chairman be authorized to send a letter to Judge Bolin that essentially accepted her resignation. Upon substitute motion made by Judge Delany, it was decided by a 10 to 5 vote that the chairman should appoint a committee, including himself, to confer with Judge Bolin to see whether she would reconsider her resignation.93
In commenting on the board’s actions, Bolin stated, “I shall always be pleased to meet with this committee or any N.A.A.C.P. Board committee, to discuss not only my resignation, but any matter or interest to the Association.94 Arthur Spingarn was one of five board members who opposed Delany’s motion to confer with Bolin regarding reconsideration of her resignation. His opposition stemmed from what he perceived to be the lack of “good faith” on Bolin’s part.95 However, Bolin felt that the vote to confer with her “indicates that a two-thirds majority of the Board, aware of my twenty years’ service to the N.A.A.C.P., does not consider my resignation motivated by ‘bad faith’ or personal reasons as publicly charged by one or two Board members.” However, Charles Toney, a municipal court judge since 1931, supported Spingarn’s argument as well as Thurgood Marshall’s earlier memorandum. He stated that since the association was a membership corporation and the laws of New York State applied, then the control of the organization was placed only in the board of directors.96
However relevant and truthful these summations were, they could not negate the fact that during Judge Bolin’s years on the board vice presidents frequently voted on the affairs of the association. Thus Bolin, and not necessarily the office of vice president, may have been the intended target of the board’s timely interpretation of the vice presidency.
A month after Bolin released her letter of resignation to the press the committee still had not conferred with her. Wilkins managed, however, to convince the board to release Wright’s comment on Judge Bolin’s letter. He was convinced that the longer the board waited to publicly address Bolin’s letter, the more they would have to prove. Wilkins referenced the leading editorial in the Afro-American for March 18 as an indication of the type of impact Judge Bolin’s letter had. Headlined “Rumblings At the NAACP,” the column said that Judge Bolin’s charges called for a searching inquiry with the public being fully informed of the findings. It called for “direct and positive replies,” saying that until this was done, “the future of the NAACP seems to be definitely in jeopardy.” The editorial also stated that “unfortunately, the charges made by Justice Bolin have been heard rather frequently within the past year and following the theory that where there (p.102) is smoke there usually is fire, the public has become increasingly confused by the charges and counter-charges.”97
Similar concerns were raised in other newspapers, whose headlines ranged from the dramatic “NAACP Branded Sterile, Barren Judge Bolin Rips Officers And Quits Job” (New York Amsterdam News) and “Justice Jane Bolin Quits NAACP: Blasts ‘Contemptuous Attitude’” (New York Age) to “Judge Jane Bolin Quits NAACP: Protests Lack Of Power Of Vice President” (The Call). Every story, however, contained the sense that Bolin’s resignation was expected. For example, the March 18 New York Amsterdam News story stated that Judge Bolin’s resignation had been expected in New York circles since early in January when she was not returned to the board of directors.98 On the same day, a New York Age article spoke of a “long simmering feud between Domestic Relations Justice Jane Bolin and national officers of the NAACP.99 The notion that disunity continued within the association hierarchy certainly justified Wilkins’s suspicion that the organization’s ability to stand together in the long fight for African Americans was being questioned.
Wilkins was equally concerned that any further delay of comment from the board would place the association in a more embarrassing position should the conference with Bolin result in her return as vice president. Wilkins told Wright, “Suppose, in your conference with Judge Bolin, she should accept the invitation of the committee and agree to withdraw her resignation. Could the Association then issue any statement condemning her letter? Would we not be in the position of having begged a person to return to her office and thereby tied our hands to criticize her views publicly?”100 In consideration of Wilkins’s statements, and that scheduling further delayed the committee conference with Judge Bolin, the following comment by the chairman of the board was set for immediate press release:
This action suggests strongly that Judge Bolin’s principal purpose was not to discuss a point of difference with the Association and its Board, but to attack the organization itself.
The ostensible reason for the writing of the letter and the tendering of her resignation as a vice president is the alleged fresh discovery by Judge Bolin that vice presidents of the NAACP do not have the power of directors of the NAACP, that is, they do not have the power to vote on issues. Judge Bolin’s letter tries to give the impression that she was unaware of this, and that as soon as she discovered it she offered her resignation. In the light of several known facts and incidents, as well as in light of reasonable intelligence, it is doubtful that this contention is in good faith.101
The national office was not pleased with the type of coverage given to the board’s response to Bolin’s letter of resignation. Wilkins, however, was quite pleased with the manner in which the Norfolk Journal and Guide handled the whole matter. In a letter to Bernard Young of the Journal and Guide, Wilkins commended (p.103) the paper for treating the board’s response “as important news and in a manner calculated to give your readers a rounded picture of the situation.” He lamented that “Eastern papers … gave Judge Bolin’s letter front-page prominence,” and carried the board’s comment “on the next to the last page and the other tacked a few paragraphs on to another story over on an inside page.”102 The “Eastern papers” to which Wilkins referred were clearly the New York Amsterdam News and the New York Age. (The black press, as a tool of the African American community, was as involved in the matter of this controversy as well as in its dissemination. For obvious reasons, the New York Amsterdam News and other New York–based African American newspapers would have been sensitive to the position of the New York Branch of the NAACP.)103
For whatever reason other newspapers outside of New York seemed to favor Bolin’s and the New York Branch’s position. William Walker’s “Down the Big Road” column in The [Cleveland] Call and Post of March 25, 1950, truly angered Wilkins. In a very bitter letter to Walker, he complained that although Walker had grasped Judge Bolin’s “specious reasons for resigning as vice-president” and had published the board’s reply, he chose nevertheless to continue to “heap praise upon Judge Bolin’s calculated attack upon the Association.”104 Wilkins was truly incensed by Walker’s article, feeling that it showed very little, if any understanding of the national office’s position. Walker’s article began as follows:
Judge Jane Bolin of the New York City Domestic Relations Court, has done a real service to the NAACP by resigning. Her letter of resignation from the national board as one of its twenty vice-presidents, brings out into the open, most of the complaints hundreds of other members have been making but have not been able to get into public print as did Judge Bolin. … I congratulate Judge Bolin for having courage enough to resent being made a figurehead or stooge. The obvious reason for denying Judge Bolin the right to vote was because previously she had shown independence and voted her conscience rather than being a yes-member for an already agreed upon program.105
Bolin had pierced the veil of this corporate body from the inside out. In the process she had exposed the weaknesses of an organization that needed to be strong for all African Americans. Many, like Walker, praised her for her courage and commitment, but others harshly criticized her. Denton J. Brooks Jr. of New York City wrote to board chairman Louis Wright bemoaning just how grieved he was to read of “Judge Jane M. Bolin’s attack on the NAACP.” Brooks further complained that while he could not pretend to comment on any of the issues involved, he felt that “this method of airing differences can be more harmful than helpful.”106
A memorandum from Charles H. White, NAACP member and self-proclaimed (p.104) expert witness for the U.S. Justice Department on policies, program, activities, teachings, and philosophy of the Communist Party and front organizations since 1937, represented the tone of several pieces of communication sent to the national office and the newspapers regarding Bolin’s letter of resignation. Addressed to the editor of the Pittsburg Courier, NAACP Acting Secretary Roy Wilkins, and New York Branch Secretary Charles A. Levy, the memorandum stated: “Justice Jane Bolin has resigned from the NAACP—I say GOOD RIDANCE. [sic] I hope she has the decency to resign as Justice of Family Court as well. It occurs to me that it is worth mentioning that Bolin, Delany, and Justine Wise Polier, all of Family Court NY City, are all bed fellows of such be kind to Commy causes as Justice Frankfurter of the Supreme Court showed for the traitor Alger Hiss. Not being able to use the NAACP for a Soviet Trojan Horse, they now hope to destroy it.”107
Bolin’s consistent activism on and off of the bench, at times with the help of her judicial colleagues Delany and Polier, had obviously ruffled the feathers of the more conservative board as well as branch membership of the NAACP and even of ordinary citizens. She considered this a small price to pay for “informing the membership of some internal conditions which appeared to me to need correction, if our Association is to be the effective and powerful instrument we want and need.”108
Bolin’s resignation stood firmly as did her criticism of the association’s national leadership. Yet the board again nominated and elected Bolin as vice president at a subsequent meeting on January 2, 1951. Whether in response to membership pressure, internal pressure, or past service, the board seemed eager to make amends—or at least committed to having Judge Bolin, the nation’s first and, at the time, only African American woman judge, counted among the names on their letterhead. In a letter to the chairman of the board, she thanked board members for their gracious action, and stated that her resignation in 1950 was a “considered decision reached after long thought and great deliberation.” She resigned immediately from the 1951 vice presidency and reiterated, “My feeling has not changed that I do not care as a national officer to assume responsibility to the public for the Association’s decisions when I am powerless to affect those decisions through voting.”109
Judge Bolin risked more than a board membership and an NAACP vice presidency in her crusade to expose and hopefully correct inconsistencies in association proceedings and management. In her fight for participatory democracy she may have risked her livelihood and her career. She may even have risked reappointment to the bench by Mayor O’Dwyer. As discussed in chapter 4, her 1949 reappointment to the bench proved to be the most difficult, though evidence suggests that political reasons could have been the problem. Just as much evidence suggests (p.105) that the entire NAACP controversy, complete with daily headlines, might have hardened O’Dwyer’s reluctance to reappoint her. The O’Dwyer’s era, according to Thomas Kessner, was the era of the Cold War mentality when fears led to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) excesses, of the new conservatism, and of the passing of insurgency politics.110
Judge Bolin’s dissident vocality was, therefore, as out of place in O’Dwyer’s administration as it was within the NAACP. Duly purged from the NAACP board, and essentially silenced as a vice president, she had become persona non grata to the national office. Nevertheless, she spoke the loudest and risked the most as a national officer. Hubert Delany’s years of activism placed him on the same philosophical plane as Bolin, yet interestingly, he eluded the “machinery” of the national office. Though many spirited exchanges occurred between him and the executive and acting secretary, none ever resulted in his banishment from the policy-making body. Maybe as a woman—an “unruly” woman—Bolin’s insider status within the inner circle of NAACP national leadership was not as secure as Delany’s.
Bolin’s legacy with the NAACP has only just begun to unfold. Undoubtedly, it will be debated through her positioning as charter member, branch official, member of the board of directors, vice president, and persona non grata to the NAACP. Though the expansive contouring of her organizational life is susceptible to portrayal as conventional and insurgent, it was nonetheless characterized by her palpable commitment to the democratic ideals of the NAACP and the philosophy of participatory democracy, a brand of leadership frequently quoted but rarely realized. This chapter utilized the portrayal of insurgency to best answer the question raised in the beginning: How and why did Judge Bolin plummet to the depths of the association’s disregard?
As the historical record is reassessed to reflect the contributions and significance of this little-known civil rights trailblazer, the question still remains: How did such a visible political subject become invisible to the historical eye? (p.106)
(1.) These women included Jane Addams, founder of the Hull House settlement in Chicago; Florence Kelley, founder of the National Consumer’s League; Mary White Ovington, leader in the National Consumer’s League, New York Social Reform Club, and founder of Greenpoint Settlement; Sophinisba Breckinridge, Edith Abbott, and Grace Abbott, social service activists; Ellen Gates Starr, cofounder of Hull House; and Alice Hamilton, public health crusader. See Dorothy Salem, To Better Our World: Black Women in Organized Reform, 1890–1920 (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1990).
(2.) Both were active in interracial organizations. Terrell was a participant and speaker in the New York Social Reform Club and the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was one of the charter members of the Constitution League founded by John Milholland, a white reformer and philanthropist, to protect the constitutional rights of black Americans. Wells-Barnett worked closely with the likes of Jane Addams and Sophinisba Breckinridge in the Frederick Douglass Center and participated in the National American Woman Suffrage Association, all while on her antilynching crusade. See Dorothy Salem, “Black Women and (p.131) the NAACP, 1909–1922: An Encounter With Race, Class, and Gender,” in Kim Marie Vaz, ed., Black Women in America (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1995), 56–57.
(5.) Thomas C. Holt, “The Lonely Warrior: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Struggle for Black Leadership,” in John Hope Franklin and August Meier, ed., Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 50.
(6.) With the names of Amy Spingarn, Mary White Ovington, Lillian Alexander, and Marion Cuthbert listed among the members of the board of directors from New York City for 1948 and earlier, perhaps the executive office only intended to allow one woman at a time to be nominated from the New York Branch to the national board. Though less restrictive than allowing only one woman from the New York Branch on the board, the provision still limited the participation of women, and especially African American women, in the policy-making body of the NAACP. Memorandum to Nominating Committee, 29 December 1943, NAACP Papers, Board of Directors Folder, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C.
(8.) Mary McLeod Bethune to Sadie Alexander, 25 November 1939, University of Pennsylvania Transcripts 50, A374S, Box 6, Folder 13.
(9.) A total of sixty-one people came from Poughkeepsie, Clinton Corners, Salt Point, and two other nearby communities. NAACP Branch Files, Poughkeepsie, New York Folder, 1932–1934, NAACP Papers.
(10.) Director of Branches to Gaius C. Bolin, 14 April, 1931, NAACP Branch Files, Poughkeepsie. Lawrence H. Mamiya and Patricia A. Kaurouma found that a very small elite group of people, composed mainly of longtime Poughkeepsie residents and the professional class of doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, and ministers were perceived as the “leaders” of the black community both by themselves and others. Included in this group were the Bolins, the Morgans, the Lowes, the Paynes, and the Andersons, who were signatories and officers of the Dutchess County Branch of the NAACP. Mamiya and Kaurouma, ed., For Their Courage and For Their Struggles: The Black Oral History Project of Poughkeepsie, New York (Poughkeepsie, NY: Urban Center for Africana Studies, Vassar College, 1978), 18–154.
(11.) By July 1937 an application for charter of Poughkeepsie Youth Council Branch was approved by the national office of the NAACP. NAACP Branch Files, Poughkeepsie.
(12.) Gaius Bolin Jr. to William Pickens, Esq., 20 August 1931, NAACP Branch Files, Poughkeepsie.
(13.) Ibid. Mamiya and Kaurouma’s oral history project reveals that the black leaders in Poughkeepsie, like in neighboring towns, believed in a “quiet way” of working by negotiating for jobs for blacks at local hospitals and factories. Social change occurred from the top down during their leadership, as no attempt was made to mobilize mass support in the form of protests, demonstrations, or picketing. Their effectiveness lasted from before the 1920s until after World War II when the largest influx of black migration to Poughkeepsie began. See Mamiya and Kaurouma, For Their Courage, 5–6.
(14.) The Scottsboro case rested on the conviction of nine innocent black youths; nevertheless, it produced important decisions that reaffirmed black people’s right to basic constitutional (p.132) protections. Gaius Bolin to The Crisis, 7 August 1931. See generally, Dan Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969).
(15.) Transcript of Speech in Honor of Du Bois, Speeches Folder, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(16.) Memorandum to Mr. Wilkins from Mr. Current, 28 October 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York City Branch Folder, 1949, NAACP Papers. Art. V, sec. 7 provided that the “entire net proceeds of any fund-raising effort for exclusively national purposes shall be transmitted to the National Office.”
(17.) Jane Bolin to Arthur Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(18.) Ibid. Also see Joanne Grant, Ella Baker: Freedom Bound (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998), especially chaps. 3, 4, and 5; Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), especially chap. 4.
(19.) Frequent controversy ensued over the division of funds often intended for the New York Branch but received by the New York National Office, and vice versa. Another financial incident involved a request by the New York Branch for permission to withhold funds from the national office. The national board granted the request but problems arose when the branch sought an extension of the withholding period. The particular latitude for retaining funds granted to the New York Branch by the national office in September 1948 created additional problems. The association’s constitution and bylaws for branches, Article V, Section 7, state that all funds raised by branches are to be shared equally between the national office and the branch. In accordance with the request of the New York Branch, however, the national board on September 13, 1948, agreed to the following: “That the New York City Branch be granted permission to use such reasonable means as it may devise to defray the operating expenses of the local branch, the National Office to waive its share of the funds exclusive of membership receipts in this particular instance, with the understanding that this permission is granted through December 31, 1948 only, and the Branch must make a financial report of all funds raised to the Branch, the National Office, and the public.” Hubert Delany to Roy Wilkins, 9 November 1949; Roy Wilkins to Hubert Delany, 17 November 1949; Roy Wilkins to Lindsay White, 20 January 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(20.) Gloster B. Current to Roy Wilkins, 28 October 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York City Branch Folder, 1949, NAACP Papers. The particular incident concerning Walter White stemmed from a controversy that raged over the political nature of the articles he wrote in the New York Herald Tribune favoring Harry Truman during the 1948 presidential campaign. At the time, Harlem had gone Democratic, but the articles were offensive to many Republicans. The New York Branch, though unique in its proximity to the national office, was not the only branch that suffered such experiences. Christopher Reed notes that almost every year seemed to bring some political contest in Chicago, and with each one, the number of volunteers, fundraising activities, and memberships decreased. New York Amsterdam News, 5 November 1949, 3, 39. See Christopher Robert Reed, The Chicago NAACP and the Rise of Black Professional Leadership, 1910–1966 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 88.
(21.) Memorandum to National Board of Directors, October 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York City Branch Folder, 1949, NAACP Papers. The New York Branch also charged that Du Bois’s dismissal adversely affected their membership and fundraising campaign (Du Bois was dismissed between September and December 1948). Current reported to Wilkins that there was no adverse effect but blamed low membership on the branch’s own lack of successful (p.133) campaigning. Gloster B. Current to Roy Wilkins, 28 October 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York City Branch Folder, 1949, NAACP Papers.
(22.) The matter of the independent petition to nominate Bolin will be dealt with later in the chapter, but suffice it to say at this point that Roy Wilkins was wholly against Bolin’s re-nomination. Hubert Delany to Roy Wilkins, 9 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(24.) Roy Wilkins to Hubert Delany, 18 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(25.) Wilkins also resented what he saw as Delany’s inaction when it came to the derelictions of the New York Branch and their failure to cooperate in carrying out the national program, campaigning for memberships, and in raising money for national projects. Roy Wilkins to Hubert Delany, 1 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York City Folder, 1949, NAACP Papers.
(26.) Hubert Delany to Wilkins, 9 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(27.) Jane Bolin to Arthur Spingarn, 9 March 1950, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(28.) The increasing tension that erupted after Bolin’s name was removed from the ballot motivated the branch’s request for a conference and the national office’s ignoring the request. New York Amsterdam News, 5 November 1949, 3, 39; Delany to Wilkins, 9 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(29.) Jane Bolin to Arthur Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(30.) This reference to “Hague attitude” is no doubt evoking the “I Am the Law” speech given by Frank Hague (Democratic Party boss and mayor of Jersey City, NJ, 1917–47) on city government. See “‘I Am the Law,’ Mayor Hague Tells 1,000 In Speech on Jersey City Government,” New York Times, 11 November 1937. Bolin’s concerns were reminiscent of those that hastened Ella Baker’s resignation from the NAACP, and of those that permitted Walter White to reprimand Baker for her independent thinking that he felt defied his leadership. At a 1944 Administrative Committee meeting she abstained from a vote to endorse his letter to the mayor of New York City regarding a controversy at Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital, which had recently added a number of African Americans to its directorate and staff and proclaimed itself as the first “interracial” voluntary hospital. Ransby, Ella Baker, 143. Also, “Medicine: Harlem Shuffle,” Time, 20 November 1944. Not everyone in the NAACP celebrated Sydenham’s model of integration, which for many fell short of that which was practiced at the city-owned Harlem Hospital. Furthermore, some in the NAACP leadership thought that the Sydenham model might siphon support from Harlem Hospital.
(31.) Hubert Delany to Roy Wilkins, 9 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(32.) Ibid.; Jane Bolin to Arthur Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3. Historian Patricia Sullivan reasons that a long overdue hike in membership fees to $2 was the primary cause for the 50 percent drop in membership to 250,000 in 1949, but agreed that the drop in membership also pointed to deeper weaknesses. Patricia Sullivan, Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: New Press, 2009), 373.
(33.) Wilkins also attributed the decrease to other factors affecting certain localities, such (p.134) as a shipping strike in San Francisco, a coal strike that affected the coal-producing states, a steel strike in Cleveland, and shutdowns and talks of strikes in Detroit. Wilkins to Delany, 18 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(34.) Wilkins to Gibson, 17 March 1950, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(35.) Bolin to Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3. By the 1940s the association’s Legal Defense Fund under the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston and his social engineers had begun to seriously chip away at segregation in higher education and was poised for a frontal attack on Plessy’s “separate but equal” doctrine. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund had indeed done a superb job on many fronts of the civil rights struggle, such as in Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938), Pearson v. Murray, 182 A. 590, 169 Md. 478, 103 A.L.R. 706 (1936), and Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents, 332 U.S. 631 (1948) in education; Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948) in housing; and Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) in voting.
(36.) Bolin to Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(38.) Carol Mueller, “Ella Baker and the Origins of Participatory Democracy,” in Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods, ed., Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941–1965 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993). Also see Grant, Ella Baker, especially chap. 3, 4, and 5.
(39.) In this capacity Bolin was better situated to garner the support of fellow board members such as Judge Hubert Delany. As will be discussed later, her philosophical conviction endeared many within the national office to the fight.
(40.) Delany to Wilkins, 9 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(41.) Bolin’s second term as board member would expire in December 1949. The members of the Nominating Committee (elected by the conference) were Dr. J. L. Leach (Flint, Michigan), Mrs. Rosa B. Johnson (Marshalltown, Iowa), W. K. Saxon, (Asheville, North Carolina), Joshua Thompson (Amber, Pennsylvania) and (elected by the board) Judge Hubert T. Delany (New York City), Mrs. D. E. Lampkin (Pittsburgh), and Alfred Baker Lewis (Greenwich, Connecticut). Dr. Leach and Daisy Lampkin to Branch Officer, 14 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers; Thurgood Marshall to Bernard Young, Publisher of Journal and Guide, 18 October 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers; The Afro-American, 8 October 1949, 1, 2.
(42.) Bolin and Delany to Wilkins, 22 November 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(43.) It is appropriate at this time to differentiate between the “staff,” so often referenced by Bolin, and the “board.” “Staff” is synonymous with the “paid staff” as in the chief administrative officers such as the executive secretary and assistant/acting executive secretary, unlike the volunteer members of the board of directors. The “national office” includes both staff and board members. The Afro-American, 8 October 1949, 1.
(44.) According to Article II, Section 3, as amended by the National Board of Directors at its meeting on 13 September 1948, “the said Association shall have a Nominating Committee consisting of seven (7) members of the Association; four (4) to be elected by the delegates to the annual convention; three (3) to be elected annually by the Board of Directors from its (p.135) own members.” “Amendments to National Constitution,” NAACP Branch Files, New York City Folder, New York, NAACP Papers.
(45.) During the period of this dissension, Walter White was executive secretary and Roy Wilkins was assistant secretary and, for some time, acting secretary. Bolin to Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3; Delany to Wilkins, 9 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers; The Afro-American, 8 October 1949.
(46.) Bolin to Spingarn, 9 March 1949; Delany to Wilkins, 9 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(47.) Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, 10 October 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers.
(48.) Ibid. Bolin was no doubt referring to the 1934 incident surrounding an editorial Du Bois wrote that appeared in The Crisis without the prior approval of the Crisis Committee. The editorial criticized the association’s policy and philosophy regarding segregation. Du Bois denounced the association’s historic stand, contending that “the Association is an organization that never had taken and never could take an absolute stand against race segregation.” When the board voted that no salaried officer could criticize its policy, work, or officers in The Crisis, that action was more than Du Bois was willing to concede, so he submitted, and the board accepted, his resignation in 1934. However, Bolin might have been referring to the much older Du Bois who, in 1948, was summarily dismissed from the association for basic policy differences. His dismissal came months after the presentation of “An Appeal to the World” petition on the denial of human rights to minorities and an appeal to the United Nations for redress. See Minnie Finch, The NAACP: Its Fight For Justice (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981), 102, 119–20; Charles Kellogg, NAACP: A History of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967); B. Joyce Ross, J. E. Spingarn and the Rise of the NAACP (New York: Athenaeum, 1972.)
(49.) Remarks by Judge Bolin at Board of Directors Meeting, 10 October 1949, NAACP Board of Directors File, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(51.) Board of Directors Meeting, 10 October 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(52.) Minutes of Meeting of the Board of Directors, 14 November 1949, NAACP Board of Director Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers. It is interesting that Wilkins was now willing to consider the effects of bad publicity on the operations of the association as well as branch and national offices, when not too long before he dismissed similar concerns raised by the New York Branch.
(53.) “Both Regarded As ‘Persona Non Grata,’” Atlanta Daily World, 23 November 1949.
(54.) NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers; The Afro-American, 8 October 1949, Bolin Papers, Box 3, Clipping File.
(56.) NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(57.) Nominating Petition, NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(58.) Hubert Delany to Roy Wilkins, 22 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Folder, NAACP Papers. (p.136)
(59.) Wilkins to Lindsay White, 1 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(61.) Bolin to Louis Wright, 6 December 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(62.) Lindsay White to Wilkins, 3 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(63.) The committee recommended the following individuals for election to the board: Kelly M. Alexander, Charlotte, NC; Dr. W. Montague Cobb, Washington, D.C.; Wesley W. Law, Savannah, GA; Dr. Harry J. Greene, Philadelphia, PA; Carl R. Johnson, Kansas City, MO. The list of incumbent board members recommended for reelection were Dr. Allan Knight Chalmers, Boston, MA; Dr. Nathan K. Christopher, Cleveland, OH; Earl B. Dickerson, Chicago, IL; Dr. George D. Flemmings, Fort Worth, TX; Dr. Allen F. Jackson, Baltimore, MD; Dr. O. Clay Maxwell, New York, NY; Philip Murray, Washington, D.C.; Theodore Spaulding, Philadelphia, PA; the Honorable Charles E. Toney, New York, NY; Dr. Louis T. Wright, New York, NY. Dr. Leach and Daisy Lampkin to Branch Officers, 28 October 1949 and 14 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(64.) These officers were the Reverend William Lloyd Imes, vice president, National Board of Directors; the Honorable Hubert Delany, member, Nominating Committee, National Board of Directors, chairman, National Board Committee on Branches; Earl B. Dickerson, member, National Board of Directors; James E. Allen, president, New York State Conference of NAACP Branches; Lindsay H. White, president, New York Branch of NAACP. NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(65.) Delany, Imes, Dickerson, Allen, and White to Branch Presidents, 16 November 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers. Hereinafter referenced as New York Branch to Branch Presidents.
(66.) Ibid. At first glance the sentence conjures up images of the antidemocratic. As authorized as this correspondence was, it intended, as did Dr. Leach’s letter, to influence the outcome of the board election.
(68.) New York Branch to Branch Presidents.
(69.) The letter was addressed to Hurley simply because months prior she had visited the Williamsport and Lewisburg branches on Youth Division business. Rev. Madison A. Bowe to Ruby Hurley, 25 November 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(70.) Everett Lawrence to Chairman of the Nominating Committee, 21 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(72.) Wilkins to Everett Lawrence, 23 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(73.) Wilkins to Reverend Bowe, 30 November 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers. Delany’s statement has no bearing on whether Judge Bolin wanted to “fight” for reelection. After all, Delany’s statement was made moments after the committee voted to remove her. (p.137)
(74.) Delany to Wilkins, 30 November 1949, NAACP Branch Files, New York Branch Folder, NAACP Papers.
(75.) Ibid. Of course Wilkins’s explanation stated that after Delany left the meeting, the committee continued its deliberations and unanimously agreed—in the light of Delany’s statement to “personally fight” its action regarding Judge Bolin—to designate Lampkin as secretary and to authorize the chairman and the secretary to issue “such communications in the name of the committee as was deemed necessary by developing events. See Wilkins to Delany, November 29, 1949, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(76.) The balloting of the branches for members of the board of directors was done at the association’s 3 January 1950 annual meeting.
(77.) Wilkins to Bolin, 10 January 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(78.) Bolin to Wilkins, 11 January 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(79.) New York Branch to Branch Presidents.
(80.) Memorandum to Self from Miss Jackson, Secretary, 20 January 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Filers, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(81.) New York Branch to Branch Presidents.
(82.) Bolin to Wright, 8 February 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3. As copied, the letter was sent to the following vice presidents: Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, Miss Nannie H. Burroughs, Mr. Godfrey L. Cabot, Hon. Arthur Capper, Miss Marion Cuthbert, Hon. Harry E. Davis, Mr. Douglas P. Falconer, Dr. Buell G. Gallagher, Bishop John A. Gregg, Dr. John Haynes Holmes, Dr. William Lloyd Imes, Hon. Hubert Humphrey, Hon. Irs W. Jayne, Mr. Isadore Martin, Mr. H. L. Mitchell, Miss L. Pearl Mitchell, Mr. T. G. Nutter, Miss Mary White Ovington, Dr. A. Clayton Powell Sr., Mr. A Philip Randolph, Rev. James H. Robinson, Mr. Ike Smalls, Mr. Willard S. Townsend, Bishop W. J. Walls.
(83.) Bolin to Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(84.) Marshall’s memorandum said in part:
In most corporations there are two bodies of officers—(1) directors who are elected by the stockholders or membership and (2) administrative officers, such as president, treasurer, secretary etc. (13 Am. Jur., Sec. 867). The appointment or election of the latter group is usually entrusted to the Board of Directors, although they may be elected by the stockholders or the membership. (13 Am. Jur. Sec. 867). In this Association, the Directors are elected by the membership. The administrative officers are appointed by the Board. These administrative officers perform purely administrative duties and have only such powers and perform only such duties as are delegated to them by their appointing authority. (13 Am. Jur. Sec. 889). Generally, the administrative officers of a corporation are not simultaneously directors of a corporation. As a matter of fact they are usually a distinct and separate body of officers, Shriver v. Carlin, 155 Md. 51, 141 A.434; Stott v. Stott Realty Co., 246 Mich. 267, 224 N.W. 623; Uniform Business Corporation Act, section 32. However, officers may be simultaneously directors of a corporation unless the bylaws specifically prohibit this. The Membership Corporation Law of New York, section 45, specifically provides that the directors of a membership corporation shall be elected by the members and that (p.138) the officers shall be chosen as provided by the bylaws. The Constitution also by Article II limits the number of directors to 48. To allow the officers elected by the Directors to vote would be in effect adding to the number of directors contrary to the express provisions of our Constitution. Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, 14 February 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(85.) Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, 14 February 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(86.) William Lloyd Imes to Bolin, 17 February 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(87.) Bishop W. J. Walls to Bolin, 1 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(88.) Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, 10 April 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(90.) Bolin to Spingarn, 9 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(91.) Wilkins to Louis Wright, 15 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers; Telegrams from Norfolk Journal and Guide and Carolina Times to the National Office, March 13, 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(92.) Bolin to Spingarn, 9 March 1950, Bolin Papers, Box 3.
(93.) Judge Charles E. Toney, Dr. Channing H. Tobias, and Dr. Louis T. Wright were appointed to serve on the committee. There was some division in reaching the decision to ask Bolin to withdraw her resignation. Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, 13 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(94.) “For Immediate Release,” NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(95.) Spingarn saw a lack of good faith in Bolin’s release of the news of her resignation to the press and in her belief that vice presidents could vote. He essentially argued that Bolin knew or should have known that vice presidents did not vote, since he knew the duties of the office of president and that no one had told him what they were. In essence he imputed the responsibility to the officer to find out what his or her duties are. Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting, 13 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(96.) “For Immediate Release,” NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(97.) Editorial, 18 March 1950, Baltimore Afro-American.
(98.) “Justice Bolin Rips Officers And Quits Job,” 18 March 1950, New York Amsterdam News.
(99.) “Justice Jane Bolin Quits NAACP: Blasts ‘Contemptuous Attitude,’” 18 March 1950, New York Age.
(100.) Wilkins to Wright, 15 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(101.) Wright’s statement was supplemented with four detailed sections of examples in support of the charge that Judge Bolin’s actions were not in good faith. Wilkins attached a cover letter with his own comments to a desk copy of Wright’s comment for William Gibson, editor of the Afro-American. Not realizing or not caring that Wilkins’s comments were intended to be “off the record,” Gibson printed them, thereby bringing yet another dimension to the controversy. “Statement on Judge Jane M. Bolin’s Letter,” by Dr. Louis T. Wright, Chairman (p.139) of the Board of the NAACP, 15 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers. See also Wilkins to William Gibson, 17 March 1950 and 22 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(102.) Wilkins to Bernard Young, 22 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(103.) As mentioned earlier, the New York Amsterdam News and the New York Age were aware of the ongoing struggle of Bolin and the New York Branch, and kept the issues in the news with or without confirmation from the national office.
(104.) Wilkins to William O. Walker, 20 April 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(106.) Denton J. Brooks Jr. to Wright, 23 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers. The idea of administrative anonymity seems to have had great currency with the NAACP leadership and quite a few of its members. But is this endemic to the NAACP, all civil rights organizations, or all organizations? And does political time and place impact the desire for such anonymity? These are not questions that will be given close attention here, but are questions that elicit further inquiry.
(107.) Charles H. White to the Editor, Pittsburg Courier, Wilkins, and Charles A. Levy, 20 March 1950, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(108.) “For Immediate Release,” NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(109.) Bolin to Wright, 14 February 1951, NAACP Board of Directors Files, Jane Bolin Folder, NAACP Papers.
(110.) Thomas Kessner, Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989), 570–72.