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What is the National Coalition of Color?

The National Coalition of Color (NCC) is a leading civil rights organization in the United States that advocates for racial justice and fights discrimination against people of color. Founded in 1978, the NCC has been at the forefront of major policy debates and social movements for over 40 years.

History of the NCC

The NCC was established in 1978 by a group of prominent civil rights leaders, activists, and organizations. This included leaders like Jesse Jackson, Benjamin Hooks, Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, and Dorothy Height. The creation of the NCC came at a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, as activists sought to consolidate the gains of the 1960s and address ongoing inequality and discrimination.

Some key events that led to the founding of the NCC:

  • The decline of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968
  • The need for a new national coalition to coordinate civil rights groups and activists
  • Backlash against civil rights gains and efforts to roll back progress in the 1970s
  • Ongoing discrimination and widening economic inequality despite civil rights legislation

The NCC brought together civil rights, labor, religious, and professional organizations representing African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color. The leaders sought to leverage the collective power of these organizations to advance a common policy agenda for racial justice.

Mission and Focus

The NCC describes its mission as “dismantling institutional racism and securing and promoting racial justice, inclusion, and equity.” It carries out this mission through a focus on several key areas:

  • Policy advocacy: Lobbying for civil rights legislation, fair housing and lending laws, voting rights protections, affirmative action, and more.
  • Legal advocacy: Supporting major court cases and filing amicus briefs on issues like school desegregation, employment discrimination, and affirmative action.
  • Public education: Raising awareness about racial inequality and generating support for policy solutions.
  • Coalition building: Bringing together and mobilizing the broader civil rights community around a shared policy agenda.
  • Leadership development: Identifying and training new generations of civil rights leaders.

While closely associated with African American civil rights, the NCC aims to represent the interests of all people of color in the United States. The coalition focuses broadly on policy issues that have significant impact across communities of color.

Major Policy Initiatives and Campaigns

Throughout its history, the NCC has spearheaded high-profile policy initiatives, campaigns, and legal challenges to combat racism and racial inequity in American society. Some major examples include:

  • Leading a national campaign to establish Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday in the 1980s.
  • Organizing opposition to the nominations of Supreme Court justices Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas based on their questionable civil rights records.
  • Launching the National Racial Justice Initiative in 2009 focused on criminal justice reform, education equity, economic justice, and healthcare access.
  • Coordinating the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington D.C. in 2010, which drew over 200,000 people calling for jobs, justice, and education.
  • Campaigning against state voter ID laws and gerrymandering practices that disenfranchise black and minority voters.
  • Supporting the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.
  • Advocating for comprehensive immigration reform to address discrimination against undocumented immigrants.

The NCC has played a leading role in building national support for civil rights policies through high-profile events, public education efforts, and coordinated local/national strategies.

Organizational Structure and Membership

The NCC has a federated organizational structure. Local and state affiliates around the country elect representatives to the national board of directors. The board sets the national policy agenda and initiatives.

The NCC’s current membership includes over 200 national and local organizations. Some of the major groups include:

  • National Urban League
  • Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • National Council of La Raza
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • United Church of Christ

This broad coalition of labor, religious, civil rights, professional, and advocacy organizations gives the NCC diverse grassroots reach across the country to mobilize support for campaigns.

Approach and Philosophy

The NCC operates based on the following core approaches and philosophies:

  • Intersectionality: Recognizing the intersections between racism, economic inequality, health disparities, environmental justice, and other issues.
  • Grassroots mobilization: Channeling the power of local communities and galvanizing participation in campaigns.
  • Nonpartisan advocacy: Pushing for civil rights progress without partisan alignment.
  • Coalition building: Uniting diverse racial/ethnic groups and organizations around joint efforts.
  • Inclusion: Representing the interests of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Arab Americans and all people of color.

This approach has allowed the NCC to adapt to evolving challenges, build broad-based advocacy coalitions, and articulate a progressive civil rights vision over the past four decades.

Current Priorities and Leadership

Some of the major policy priorities the NCC is currently focused on include:

  • Criminal justice reform – eliminating racial bias and disparities in policing, courts, and incarceration.
  • Voting rights – fighting voter suppression efforts, expanding access through early voting/vote-by-mail.
  • Education equity – closing opportunity and achievement gaps, diversifying teaching staff, ending school segregation.
  • Economic justice – equitable wages, affordable housing, better access to credit/financial services.
  • Immigration reform – pathways to citizenship, protecting DACA recipients, stopping discrimination against immigrants.
  • Health equity – expanding healthcare access, reducing racial health disparities.

The NCC is currently led by President and CEO Marc Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans. The national board chairman is Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson. Under their leadership, the NCC continues to be a leading force for civil rights advocacy in the 21st century.

Impact and Legacy

Over its more than 40-year history, the NCC can point to concrete impacts in advancing civil rights and racial justice, including:

  • Passage of landmark legislation like the Voting Rights Act amendments, Fair Housing Act, and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday bill.
  • Defeating nominees like Robert Bork and pressuring more moderate Supreme Court picks.
  • Influencing implementation and enforcement of civil rights laws and affirmative action policies.
  • Building momentum for criminal justice reform and reducing incarceration rates.
  • Protecting policies like affirmative action from efforts to dismantle them.
  • More diverse congressional representation and increase in minority voting rates since the 1960s.

While substantial work remains to combat institutional racism, the NCC has made invaluable contributions. It continues to provide principled leadership and serve as the nation’s conscience on civil rights.

Year Key Event or Campaign
1978 NCC founded by civil rights leaders
1980s Led push for Martin Luther King Jr. holiday bill
1980s Opposed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork
1990s Fought discriminatory state ballot initiatives
2000s Major voting rights campaigns after 2000 election
2009 Launched National Racial Justice Initiative
2010 Organized One Nation Working Together march
2010s Campaigned against state voter ID laws
2020s Leading criminal justice reform advocacy

This timeline highlights some of the major campaigns and policy efforts driven by the NCC over the decades. The organization has consistently been at the forefront of civil rights advocacy since its founding.

Criticisms and Controversies

While widely respected, the NCC has faced criticism at times from both the left and right, including:

  • Being too moderate and mainstream in its policy approach to appease white liberals.
  • Focusing too much on elite insider lobbying instead of grassroots protest.
  • Failing to adequately address economic inequality within communities of color.
  • Being beholden to Democratic party interests rather than pushing a bold independent agenda.
  • Supporting controversial policies like affirmative action and immigration reform.
  • Receiving criticism from conservative groups claiming the NCC promotes identity politics.

Debates have emerged within the NCC and broader civil rights community about the best strategies and policies to achieve racial equity in contemporary times. However, the coalition remains a leading centralized voice advocating for communities of color.


For over four decades, the National Coalition of Color has provided critical leadership and advocacy in the fight against racism and for civil rights progress. It has spearheaded major policy initiatives, campaigns, and legal challenges that have advanced racial justice. While stubborn barriers and inequities remain, the NCC continues to articulate a bold vision and agenda to dismantle systemic racism in all its forms. Its voice and advocacy remains essential to building an inclusive, just, and equitable society.