By Frances Gunn, El Paso High School —
For over a century, El Paso’s Chapter of NAACP has been advocating for the rights of its citizens. But it’s far from staying in the past, as it’s been evolving with the city.
“I think just being in El Paso is unique. We’re on the border. We have other issues here that kind of make our job a little bit more interesting,” Jackeline Biddle Richard, president of El Paso NAACP Chapter said.
Not only that, but El Paso’s Chapter is different in other ways. It was founded in 1914, a mere five years after the National Chapter was.
“We were the first branch in Texas. That’s something that we’re really proud of. And, you know, it’s something I like to talk about,” President Biddle Richard said.
But that’s not all-the El Paso NAACP Chapter has continued to be individual over its extensive history.
“And over the years, this was actually a hub of all of the big civil rights leaders of their time in the 40s, and 50s, and even 60s actually came here and spoke here or, you know, somehow they made their way to El Paso, so El Paso has always had that distinction,” Biddle Richard said.
On its own, however, the El Paso Chapter has played a major part in preserving the rights of its citizens.
“The founder of the branch here in El Paso actually brought cases of discrimination having to do with voting rights to the Supreme Court, at the turn of the century,” Biddle Richard said., referring to Dr. Lawrence Nixon. “And for many years, he really fought these cases, and because of him winning those cases, Texas laws that were very discriminatory against people of color were changed and abolished.”
While some of the problems the Chapter may have faced in the past are now gone, some of the same issues still remain.
“That is a huge legacy. That’s something that’s very important to me, because in the day and age that we live now, we’re still dealing with all kinds of limitations in voting laws and voting rights. So that’s really a huge legacy of this branch.”
Even with the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, voting still remains something the EP NAACP Chapter focuses on.
“We’re also actually doing a huge thing with voting rights…because Texas is one of the few states that to register, you can’t do it online. You actually have to do it on paper in person, or have folks who are deputized to register, like I am, register you,” Biddle Richard said.
Other topics have become new issues the El Paso branch focuses on. As the Chapter moves into a new era, their ongoing struggles within the community have also changed paths.
“Well, besides the voting stuff, we’re actually doing a lot with mental health. And pretty soon we’ll have a summit for that,” Biddle Richard said.
Not only this, but changes inside the Chapter have led to their own new developments and difficulties.
“Over the years, we’ve had waves of ups and downs, especially with different leadership. I’m still telling people for the first time that we have a chapter here, and so for me it’s very important to talk about our strategies and our strategic plan and our initiatives that we have,” Biddle Richard said.
Although new topics, such as mental health, access to healthcare, and an increase in community outreach are discussed, these aren’t the only new changes ushered in.
“I don’t know if you guys knew this, but I am Afro Latina. I’m actually Latina, and I’m actually of African descent. So I’m Afro Latina. That’s something really new. I think I can say I’m the first Afro Latina leader of the NAACP here in El Paso. So I think that brings another dynamic as well,” Biddle Richard said.
This story was produced as part of the 2023 High School Journalism Camp at the McCall Center. The center hosted a one-week journalism camp where El Paso high school students publlished a special edition of The Good Neighbor Interpreter, a regional newspaper that McCall Center founder Leona Ford Washington once published with news about the Black community. The El Paso History museum sponsored the camp as part of the city’s 150th anniversary this year.