We are the Merrimack Valley Branch of the NAACP. The NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is the largest and oldest national civil rights organization, organized in 1909. The NAACP is an advocacy organization whose purpose is to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination and to ensure the political, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons.
The Merrimack Valley Branch serves the area covered by the cities of Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen, all in Massachusetts, and surrounding towns. The Branch received its charter in 1946, and has been active ever since. See below for a complete history of the Merrimack Valley Branch.
The Merrimack Valley Branch NAACP has its regular monthly meeting on the second Tuesday of the month (except when that day is a holiday) at 6:00 pm at 599 Canal Street, Lawrence, MA (parking in the rear), 6th Floor Conference Room.
The Officers for the Branch are:
- Mr Joseph Devoe, President
- Mr. Dwayne Wheeler, First Vice President
- Mr. Samuel (Polo) Pierre, Second Vice President
- Ms Corine Rice, Secretary
- Ms Jo Ann Marcucci, Acting Treasurer
A Brief History of the Merrimack Valley Branch NAACP
The NAACP came into existence because one woman, Mary White Ovington, read the words of an outraged reporter, William English Walling of the Springfield (IL) Independent . In the summer of 1908, the country was shocked by the race riots in Springfield, which had been the home of Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Walling wrote an article entitled “Race War in the North.” He graphically described the atrocities committed against Black people and ended his article with this question, “Yet who realizes the seriousness of the situation and what large and powerful body of citizens is ready to come to their aid?” Mary Ovington said, "I am".
So she met with Mr. Walling and one other person, Dr. Henry Moskowitz, in a little room in a New York apartment the first week of 1909. They listened as Mr. Walling, a southerner, spoke of the years he spent in Russia where his wife, working in the cause of revolutionists, had suffered imprisonment. He expressed the belief that the Negro was treated with greater inhumanity in the United States than the Jew was treated in Russia.
These three people then turned to others. Mr. Oswald Garrison Villard, President of the N.Y. Evening Post Company, on February 12, 1909, wrote and published the call for a national conference on the Negro question. The call stated (among other compelling statements), “Silence under these conditions means tacit approval. The indifference of the north is already responsible for more than one assault upon democracy and every such attack reacts as unfavorably upon whites as upon blacks. Discrimination once permitted cannot be bridled. Recent history in the south shows that in forging chains for the Negroes, the white voters are forging chains for themselves...
Hence we call upon all the believers in democracy to join in a national conference for the discussion of present evils, the voicing of protests and the renewal of the struggle for civil and political liberty.” On May 30, 1909 the conference was held, with over a thousand people being invited. A second conference was held in May, 1910 and thus the NAACP became a permanent organization.
The Merrimack Valley Branch has a rich heritage. Its roots were set down many years ago in the city of Haverhill, Massachusetts when Thomas J. Whiting organized a branch there and chartered its course for nine years. During this period many persons of national repute visited the branch and added interest to the fight for freedom. As so often happens the life of the young branch fluctuated and finally it became inactive.
But the newly aroused spirit of freedom continued to grow. In 1916, a group of Lowell citizens felt the effects of this new organization and joined with the Boston Branch of the NAACP. A Lowell section was organized and Harold M. Wingood was elected President. Members of this section added some 80 members of both races to the Boston branch during the first year and contributed in many ways toward maintaining the morale of Black troops then stationed at Camp Devens. After World War I ended and the Black population in the Merrimack Valley dropped to its pre-war level, the Lowell section suspended meetings and became inactive .
In 1946 another committee of concerned citizens from Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill spearheaded a renewed interest in an active NAACP branch within the Merrimack Valley. After several successful organizational meetings a charter from the National office was applied for and issued to the Merrimack Valley Branch - NAACP. The charter included Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill and adjacent towns. It became effective October 14, 1946. The Branch's officers were Samuel S. Crayton, Sr., President; Harold L. Quickley, Vice President; Bertha Finnegan, Secretary; and James H. Ward, Treasurer. In December 1947, the branch had to be reorganized due to a technicality. The group met at the Lowell YMCA and elected Everette Lawrence, President; the Rev. Fred L. Faulcon and Thomas J. Whiting, Vice Presidents; Benjamin Sayles, Secretary; and James H. Ward, Treasurer. These officers were sworn in and took office in 1948.
Thomas J. Whiting became the first fully paid life member of the Merrimack Valley Branch in 1961. A few months later Lillian Richardson also became a life member and served the Branch for many years as Freedom Fund chairperson.
The Merrimack Valley Branch has made its voice heard when discrimination reared its ugly head in housing, education and employment. For example, in 1966 the branch organized a conference to deal with systematic discrimination in housing and employment. Also, the branch assumed the leadership role by organizing an ad hoc committee of concerned Lowell citizens who raised $20,000 for housing, furniture, clothing and other essentials for eleven Black and White families who were left homeless when a tragic fire on Wiggins Street in Lowell destroyed their apartments and claimed the lives of a Black mother and her children.
On December 7, 1968, Roy Wilkins, Executive Director of the National NAACP, was the banquet speaker at the largest turnout of NAACP members and guests that ever assembled north of Boston. More then 1600 supporters and friends packed the field house at Phillips Academy in Andover to hear the message and pay tribute to the civil rights leader. In 1970 the Branch provided $6,200 in financial aid for students at Lowell State College.
In 1978 the Branch filed suit with the U.S. Department of Revenue against Lowell and Lawrence, alleging racial discrimination in city employment. This suit was resolved in favor of the Branch. In 1978-79, the Branch filed suit, seeking to restrain a restaurant from using the name "Sambo". The restaurant changed its name. Over the years the Branch has continually responded to the grievances brought to its attention by victims of various forms of discrimination in the Merrimack Valley.
The Merrimack Valley Branch organized a contingent of local people to go to Washington, D.C. in August, 1989 to participate in the Silent March protesting the recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, which diminished our civil rights. It was a rich and meaningful experience.
In the 1990’s the Branch broke new ground by establishing a permanent office at 599 Canal Street 6th floor in Lawrence. This was made possible by the bequest of an anonymous benefactor from Haverhill.
This year, 2007, the Branch plans to establish a presence on the Internet with the assistance of a grant from Verizon which will be a great help in establishing communication throughout the Merrimack Valley.
The Branch has continued to sponsor the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast which remains the best opportunity for people from all over the Merrimack Valley to come together in fellowship and rededication on this special holiday. The Branch continues to represent the African American community by participating in the annual Lowell Folk Festival. With the help of the Mogan Cultural Center of the Lowell National Park we have presented Black History events during Black Heritage Month during the last two years. It continues to play an active part in the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and the national organization.
Past Presidents of the Merrimack Valley Branch
- Samuel S. Crayton, Sr. 1946 to Nov. 1947
- Everette Lawrence, Dec. 1947 to Dec. 1950
- The Rev. Fred L. Faulcon, Jan. 1951 to Dec. 1952
- Godfrey Hall, Jan. 1953 to Dec. 1954
- The Rev. Julius Mitchell, Jan. 1955 to Dec. 1956
- Godfrey Hall, Jan. 1957 to Dec. 1960
- Herbert DeVeaux, Jan. 1961 to Dec. 1962
- The Rev. Fred L. Faulcon, Jan. 1963 to Dec. 1964
- Bennie Armstrong, Jan. 1965 to Dec. 1970
- William Jones, Jan. 1971 to Dec. 1972
- Raymond Bell, Jan. 1973 to Sept. 1974 (Resigned)
- Eldon Chapman, Sept. 1974 to Dec. 1974
- Bennie Armstrong, Jan. 1975 to Dec. 1976
- Herbert Brown, Jan. 1977 to Sept. 1979 (Resigned)
- Cleotha Jackson, Sept. 1979 to Dec. 1982
- Robert McKinley, Jan. 1983 to Nov. 1983 (Resigned)
- The Rev. Roger Sawtelle, Nov. 1983 to Dec. 1984
- June Miles Gonsalves, Esq., Jan. 1985 to Dec. 1989
- Thomas Johnson, Jan. 1990 to Dec 1996
- Katie Tyler, Jan. 1997 to Dec. 1999
- Lisa D. Riddick, Jan. 2000 to Dec 2004
- Erik Shaw, Jan. 2005 to Dec. 2006
- The Rev. Roger A. Sawtelle, Jan. 2007 to Dec. 2012
- Aston G. Moore, Jan. 2013 to Dec. 2014
- Lisa D. Riddick, Jan. 2015 to June 2016
- Vincent Tyler, June 2016 to Dec 2016
- Joseph Devoe, Jan. 2017 to present