Joel Spingarn (1875 – 1939)

Reference: Library of Congress
Joel E. Spingarn (May 17, 1875 – July 26, 1939)

Joel Elias Spingarn (May 17, 1875 – July 26, 1939)

The favorable publicity generated by the Pink Franklin case, in which the NAACP defended a black sharecropper accused of murder, attracted new supporters to the NAACP. Among them was the independently wealthy Joel Spingarn (1875-1939), chairman of Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Spingarn, the eldest son of an Austrian Jewish tobacco merchant, had a profound sense of social responsibility and abhorred racial violence. Intent on reform, he made an unsuccessful bid for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1908 and served as a delegate at the national conventions of the Progressive Party in 1912 and 1916. Spingarn resigned his professorship in 1911 to devote his energy and talents to the NAACP.  He was successively elected as Executive Committee member, chairman of the board, treasurer, and finally president between 1930 and 1939.  Joel Spingarn was the originator of the Spingarn Medal, awarded annually by the NAACP since 1915 for the highest achievement by an African American.