By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Black lives have changed since the NAACP held its first Freedom Luncheon 58 years ago in Norfolk; and it may explain why ticket sales are brisk for the 59th annual Freedom Fund Luncheon. For example, offensive signs have largely vanished. Sitting at a lunch counter is no longer a political statement. President Barack Obama is finishing his second term in the White House. And Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander will be the keynote speaker at the 59th annual Life Membership and Freedom Fund Luncheon that will be held Oct. 1, at noon, in the Murray Center.
This year’s theme is “Our Lives Matter, Our Vote Counts.” Brenda H. Andrews, Owner and Publisher of the nation’s 3rd oldest African-American newspaper is the Mistress of Ceremonies for the afternoon. The featured vocalist is Trequan Manning, 2016 ACT-SO National Convention Finalist. “People should come to this year’s luncheon to support the local branch of the NAACP,” said Thomas Springs III, who has chaired the Freedom Fund for the past two years. “Much of the funding for the branch comes from this event.”
Springs who joined the Norfolk NAACP in 2013, said he did so because Norfolk NAACP President Joe Dillard asked him to join. Springs said Dillard urged him to “help make a difference.” The upcoming luncheon, which normally attracts 300-400, funds the organization’s annual budget and programs. Dillard, at age 27, is a member of the millennial generation that was born after the days of abject racial discrimination and legal segregation practices fought against and outlawed by the NAACP and other civil rights groups. He is the nation’s youngest NAACP president, and he is a vice president of the Virginia State NAACP.
Spring said tickets are still available. “We ask that you assist us as we continue to fight for freedom, equality, and for the civil rights of all people.” In a sense, he is articulating the organization’s stated aim. The Norfolk chapter received its charter on Sept. 17, 1917. “Mr. P.B. Young, editor of the Journal and Guide Newspaper and Mrs. Laura E. Titus, a noted educator after whom Titus Elementary School was named, signed the Original call letter (dated April 201,1917,” according to the NAACP’s website. “The letter invited Norfolkians to join … and to work for racial uplift.”
While numerous news reports have questioned the NAACP’s relevance in recent years, sort through some of the headlines from that period – then decide. For example the year the Norfolk NACCP held its first Freedom Fund Luncheon in 1957, one of the top headlines nationwide was the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. The law established the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department and enabled federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote, according to Black Past.org. That same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce the desegregation of Central High School, where nine African-American students were enrolled.
This means the Norfolk NAACP held its first Freedom Fund Luncheon two years after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move from her seat in the “colored section” of a public bus to allow a white passenger to sit down in 1955; but two years before a group of students sparked lunch counter demonstrations nationwide by sitting at an all-white lunch counter in Woolworths in Greensboro in 1960.
Wedged in between various shreds of ancient history is the answer: (Is the NAACP still relevant)? In an effort to address the frequently raised question, the national NAACP said on its website, “Despite making great qualitative and quantitative advances, we have a long way to go to reach true equality. . .For many African-Americans, the American dream remains just that, a dream.”
But the facts are more telling. This means that while the Norfolk NAACP is putting the finishing touches on its 59th annual Freedom Fund Luncheon, consider some facts. Fact No. 1, it is illegal to refuse a public transportation seat to a person of a specific race. Fact No. 2, it is illegal to refuse service to a specific race at a lunch counter. Well, you get the picture. Fact No. 3, the NAACP was heavily involved in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, which outlawed separate but equal schools. Here’s another fact. At its recent annual convention in Cincinnati, many Republican and Democratic presidential candidates spoke at the organization’s annual meeting. Donald Trump, according to news reports, was the first Republican candidate to turn down the invitation. Banquet tickets are also available at $45 per person or $450 for a table of ten.
For more information regarding sponsorships, tickets, and journal ad information, please contact Mrs. Melinease Hutchinson at (757) 461-3577.