“Every Day Is a Membership Day”: Lillie Carroll Jackson's Baltimore NAACP Membership Drives
BHW 41: November 11, 2023
When Lillie Carroll Jackson took over the presidency of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1935, it had roughly one hundred members. By 1939, its nearly 3,500 members made it the second-largest NAACP branch in the country, trailing only Detroit.  Along with her daughters Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah, Lillie Carroll Jackson made membership drives a cornerstone of the Baltimore NAACP. These Jackson family leaders prioritized accessibility and inclusivity in membership, crossing lines of class and gender to create a community organization truly representative of Black Baltimore. Three important factors explain the branch’s successful post-1935 growth. Firstly, the Baltimore NAACP was converted from a restrictive elite organization to an expansive mass membership group.  This greatly expanded the reach of NAACP reform efforts, moving beyond courtroom advances into pressing local issues. Secondly, Lillie Carroll Jackson herself proved remarkable at soliciting and maintaining widespread support due to her charisma, speaking abilities, and determination. When she spoke, people listened. Thirdly, branch leaders worked closely with Baltimore’s historically significant Black churches to integrate their association into the city’s influential Black religious communities. The ensuing church endorsements provided immense amounts of community authority, capital, and enthusiasm. Taken together, these factors skyrocketed the Baltimore NAACP’s membership in the mid-1930s as it turned from an organization into a movement. 
The expansion of the Baltimore NAACP’s membership to include as much of the Black Baltimorean community as possible fueled growth and success. As Juanita recalls, “prior to my mother’s taking over the NAACP, its membership was limited to doctors, teachers, lawyers, clergymen, and so-called educated blacks.”  The organization typically held its membership drives in the fall, and the 1935 drive began in earnest that October. This campaign was presented as a direct response to recent events demonstrating the dire need for social change to protect and empower African Americans. Most specifically, 1935 membership drive literature depicted George Armwood, an African American man who was lynched on Maryland’s Eastern Shore two years prior.  The message was clear: by joining the NAACP prospective members could help prevent the continuation of such racial violence, protecting their own loved ones and communities. As historian Thomas L. Bynum points out, such a focus on lynching garnered widespread support not just because of the severity of the issue but also because it threatened African Americans indiscriminately across class lines.  The platform Lillie Carroll Jackson put forth as branch president reflected her expansive inclusive vision for the new membership. Juanita describes the breadth of her mother’s post-1935 inclusive membership approach well: “She fought for better wages, she fought against discrimination in the unions, for the hod carriers, for the bricklayers, for the cement finishers… And on the other hand, she fought for the opening up of the graduate schools of the University of Maryland, and the equalization of teachers’ salaries.” 
Much of the success of the Baltimore NAACP membership drives stemmed from the skills and personality of Lillie Carroll Jackson herself. Louis Shub, who worked under Jackson at the Baltimore NAACP for many years, marvels at her ability to command an audience. He recalls, “She had this combination of a political leader and a gospel preacher. And she moved audiences, there’s no question about it. Not only the Blacks in the audience but the whites also. So her very personality, I think, had a big effect on the civil rights movement in Baltimore.”  Surely these skills also extended to convincing people to join the local NAACP. It seems her passion for and commitment to the cause was quite contagious. Indeed, activist and later member of Congress Parren J. Mitchell explains why Jackson was so successful in bringing in memberships and contributions. He emphasizes, “The people gave up their money willingly, because of two things: Because she was a dynamic personality and, second, they could see the result of the NAACP effort. They could see either the fight [going] on or some things being changed.”  Of course, the ability to achieve change depended directly on Jackson’s ability to ramp up support. While her daughters and other NAACP activists also played significant roles, throughout her thirty-five years as branch president people placed trust in her leading vision for the organization.
Jackson also brought remarkable intensity and unshakable self-belief to her NAACP work. Enolia MacMillan, who long worked with Jackson at the Baltimore branch and was ultimately her successor as president, strongly articulates her leadership style. She asserts, “The discussion usually centered around her—It was more or less a one-way street whereby she would indicate what we would be working on next and how we proposed to do it and what she wanted us to do. It’s a very efficient method of procedure; a method that the nations of the world used for many years. Sort of autocratic, but gets things done.”  While MacMillan makes a tongue in cheek comparison to authoritarian world leaders here, her point about Jackson’s no-nonsense approach is clear. These impressions led one historian, Prudence Cumberbatch, to remark: “Jackson’s success stemmed from her demanding, and sometimes dictatorial, leadership style.”  While there is a veiled critique here, it appears that the firmness of Jackson’s approach was an asset in standing up to historically entrenched forces of white supremacy. She would not be manipulated, and would not stop advocating for her community until her objectives were met.
The 1935 Baltimore branch membership drive was Juanita Jackson Mitchell’s first major assignment since joining the NAACP’s national staff.  Along with NAACP Field Secretary Daisy Lampkin, Mitchell served as a connecting link between the branch and the national office. While her sister Virginia would later serve as promotional secretary for the branch and would direct membership campaigns, in 1935 Virginia was not highly involved. However, the slogan she later coined, “Every day is a membership day,” is certainly reflective of the approach her mother and sister brought to the 1935 drive.  While the national staff was highly supportive in 1935, this changed as the Baltimore branch grew exponentially in the years that followed. With greatly expanded branch membership came increasing responsibilities to represent and advocate for member interests.  As historian Andor Skotnes argues, the ensuing local-national frictions are natural outgrowths of trying to pursue local agendas under a national umbrella. He writes, “Ultimately, the real causes of the friction between Jackson and [NAACP Executive Secretary Walter] White, and between Baltimore and national NAACP leaders, was not personal but the struggle to define the proper relationship between a national organization and a local branch with a mass membership that had its own… distinct needs.”  Generally, the national office and Baltimore branch found ways to put differences aside to advance overall NAACP interests. 
Under Jackson’s leadership, the Baltimore NAACP became inextricably intertwined with the city’s Black churches. Recognizing that these churches played vital roles in the lives of Black Baltimoreans, she harnessed their cultural capital. This included donations, volunteers, speaking opportunities, and membership recruitment.  The churches also provided information networks for NAACP messaging.  She facilitated this information spread both directly and indirectly, speaking at Sunday services and having religiously inclined members disseminate information. Historian David Milobsky provides strong supporting data for the heavy involvement of Baltimore’s Black churches in the branch itself. He points out that from 1935 to 1958, the first 23 years of Jackson’s 35-year presidency, “Baltimore’s ministers were heavily involved in the organization, providing eight out of fourteen vice presidents of the Baltimore chapter, six of fourteen committee chairpersons, and eighteen of sixty executive committee members.”  Even when Jackson was not actively utilizing church connections, church influences permeated the branch’s leadership and decision-making.
Jackson’s religious emphasis also gave her work added credibility for Black Baltimoreans who might otherwise be inclined to view NAACP activities as radical. As historian Lee Sartain argues, “Lillie Jackson’s religiosity and respectability… gave her a defense for being radical, from white accusations of communism in the 1930s and from attacks on her leadership dominance in the 1950s.”  However, the religious defense could only work to an extent. Jackson’s emphasis on democracy further bolstered acceptance and support. According to Juanita, who was consistently more radical than her mother, “We felt so courageous that in many sections of this state, and even sometimes in Baltimore City, my mother and the NAACP were considered radicals. We were considered Communists and the like.” Jackson consistently defended the branch from such charges with, as Juanita continues, “a Christian philosophy… an adherence to constitutional principles, and a belief in the democratic form of government.”  It appears that Jackson’s emphasis on moderation, democracy, and understated opinions quieted numerous critics. 
Lillie Carroll Jackson, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, and Virginia Jackson Kiah greatly expanded the membership of the Baltimore NAACP starting in 1935. Lillie Carroll Jackson in particular recognized how crucial mass membership would be to branch success. Her personal strength, charisma, religious connections, and inclusive approach drove membership growth. Not only did strength in numbers allow for mobilizing more capital, but it also brought increased clout in funding or policy negotiations with the national office. As physician and long-time Baltimore NAACP activist Dr. J. E. T. Camper recalls, “[Jackson] had quite a bit of influence among the members because everybody realized that the Baltimore branch under Mrs. Jackson was one of the leading branches, if not the leading branch. A lot of things that we [the NAACP] have accomplished in Baltimore helped to mold what happened all over the United States.”  Branch strength was primarily measured in membership, so membership became a primary Baltimore NAACP goal throughout Jackson’s presidential tenure. This generated a snowball effect, with more and more members joining as the branch grew larger and gained momentum under her determined leadership.
 Eli Pousson, “Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Museum, 1320 Eutaw Place,” photograph (Baltimore, MD, May 9, 2017), Baltimore Heritage, public domain, https://flic.kr/p/U4JBG3.
 Andor Skotnes, A New Deal for All?: Race and Class Struggles in Depression-Era Baltimore (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 270, Kindle edition.
 David Taft Terry, The Struggle and the Urban South: Confronting Jim Crow in Baltimore before the Movement (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2019), 13, Kindle edition.
 Prudence Cumberbatch, “What ‘the Cause’ Needs Is a ‘Brainy and Energetic Woman’: A Study of Female Charismatic Leadership in Baltimore,” in Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle, eds. Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodward (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 57, https://archive.org/details/wanttostartrevol0000unse.
 Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah, “Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah interview, 1975,” by Charles Wagandt, July 15, 1975, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 46, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/juanita-jackson-mitchell-and-virginia-jackson-kiah-interview-1975/.
 Larry S. Gibson, Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice (New York: Prometheus Books, 2012), 301, https://archive.org/details/youngthurgoodmak0000gibs.
 Thomas L. Bynum, “‘We Must March Forward!’: Juanita Jackson and the Origins of the NAACP Youth Movement,” The Journal of African American History 94, no. 4 (Fall 2009): 494, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25653975.
 Juanita Jackson Mitchell, “Juanita Jackson Mitchell interview,” by Leroy Graham, July 6, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 3, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/juanita-jackson-mitchell-interview/.
 Louis Shub, “Louis Shub interview,” by Ellen Paul, January 12, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 4, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/h-warren-buckler-interview/.
 Parren J. Mitchell, “Parren J. Mitchell interview,” by Susan Conwell, August 12, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 2, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/parren-j-mitchell-interview/.
 Enolia McMillan, “Enolia McMillan interview,” by Richard Richardson, April 6, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 3, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/enolia-mcmillan-interview/.
 Cumberbatch, “What ‘the Cause’ Needs,” 52.
 Cumberbatch, “What ‘the Cause’ Needs,” 56-57.
 Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah, “Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah interview, 1975,” by Charles Wagandt, July 15, 1975, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 49, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/juanita-jackson-mitchell-and-virginia-jackson-kiah-interview-1975/.
 Terry, The Struggle and the Urban South, 13.
 Skotnes, A New Deal for All?, 306.
 Terry, The Struggle and the Urban South, 13.
 Cumberbatch, “What ‘the Cause’ Needs,” 58.
 Sandy M. Shoemaker, “‘We Shall Overcome, Someday’: The Equal Rights Movement in Baltimore. 1935-1942,” Maryland Historical Magazine 89, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 266, https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc5800/sc5881/000001/000000/000356/pdf/msa_sc_5881_1_356.pdf.
 David Milobsky, “Power from the Pulpit: Baltimore’s African-American Clergy, 1950-1970,” Maryland Historical Magazine 89, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 278, https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc5800/sc5881/000001/000000/000356/pdf/msa_sc_5881_1_356.pdf.
 Lee Sartain, Borders of Equality: The NAACP and the Baltimore Civil Rights Struggle, 1914-1970 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 103, Kindle edition.
 Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah, “Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Virginia Jackson Kiah interview, 1976,” by Charles Wagandt, January 10, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 8-10, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/juanita-jackson-mitchell-and-virginia-jackson-kiah-interview-1976/.
 Cumberbatch, “What ‘the Cause’ Needs,” 59.
 Dr. J. E. T. Camper, “Dr. J. E. T. Camper interview,” by Leroy Graham, July 2, 1976, McKeldin-Jackson Project Oral History Collection, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture (Baltimore, MD), 34, https://www.mdhistory.org/resources/dr-j-e-t-camper-interview/.