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History of NEA

It has always been our calling, and our privilege, to fight for a system in which all children can learn and thrive.

In 2018, more than 8,000 delegates to the RA voted to put racial and social justice at the forefront of NEA’s work. They overwhelmingly adopted a policy commiting NEA to “actively advocate for social and educational strategies fostering the eradication of institutional racism and white privilege.” 

In that moment, we were our best selves. We listened, debated, differed — and ultimately, upheld our values of a democratic process and racial justice.

This moment was possible because NEA held those values from our earliest years. We haven’t always made progress as quickly, or neatly. We’ve had to learn and grow. But democracy and racial justice are in our history, and successes from the past give us the strength and stamina to work for a better tomorrow, for all our students.

A Brief History of the NEA

For more than 150 years, NEA members have advocated for equal working conditions for educators and learning opportunities for students.
1857
Children in school room

Birth of the National Teachers Association

Ten state education associations issue a call to “unite … to advance the dignity, respectability and usefulness of their calling.” At first, only men can join, but women are welcomed in 1866.
1865
Black students in 1800s classroom

NTA Denounces Slavery

At the summer convention, NTA President J.P. Wilkersham denounces slavery and recommends that no seceded states be readmitted to the Union until they agree to provide a free public school system for Black as well as white children.
1869
Famale teacher in 1800s classroom

NEA Elects Woman as Vice President

Just three years after membership is opened to women, the NTA elects Emily Rice as Vice President of the Association. In 1910, the NTA elects a woman as president — a decade before Congress grants women the right to vote.
1870
NEA logo

NTA Becomes NEA

The NTA absorbs three smaller organizations, and gets its modern name: the National Education Association.
1920
NEA RA crowd

NEA Becomes a Representative Assembly

The NEA adopts its modern structure of affiliated state and local unions, with delegates to the Representative Assembly.
1926
Cheyney University students

NEA Forms Joint Committee for Justice

In the 1920s, the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SASC) didn’t accredit schools for African American students, preventing them from attending many colleges and universities. The NEA joined with the American Teachers Association, whose members were primarily Black, to pressure SASC to change. The Joint Committee for Justice was the first of several successful NEA-ATA partnerships.
1940s
Sign reading "We want white tenants in our white community"

NEA Responds to Affiliate Discrimination

The national association focuses on equal treatment of members by affiliate leadership. It refuses to hold Representative Assemblies in cities that discriminate against delegates based on race.
1954
Black mother and daughter hold newspaper announcing end to school segregation

NEA Protects Targets of School Segregation

Despite the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, Black educators were targeted or fired by schools trying to avoid desegregation orders. In response, NEA established a $1 million fund to “protect and promote the professional, civil, and human rights of educators,” and worked with the ATA to support those teachers.
1966
NEA-ATA merger timeline graphic

NEA and ATA Merge

In 1964, the Representative Assembly passed a resolution requiring racially segregated affiliates to merge. Two years later, NEA becomes fully integrated, when the NEA and ATA agree to merge at the 1966 Representative Assembly.
1967
Braulio Alonso in front of namesake school

NEA Elects First Hispanic President

NEA continues the fight for culturally responsive education. Work at the 1967 conference leads directly to the passage of the 1968 Bilingual Education Act—a great legacy for Braulio Alonso, NEA’s first Hispanic president.
1968
Elizabeth Duncan Koontz

NEA Elects First Black President

Elizabeth Duncan Koontz becomes NEA’s first Black president. Under her tenure, NEA establishes the Center for Human Relations, today known as Human & Civil Rights.
1970s
Delegates to the 2015 Representative Assembly

NEA Recognizes the Need for Inclusion and Diversity

NEA’s commitment to lifting all voices continues with the formation of ethnic-minority caucuses, including the Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee. NEA also adopts new governing documents and Bylaw 3-1(g) to ensure ethnic minority representation in NEA governing bodies and the NEA Representative Assembly is guaranteed.
1974
pregnant educator

NEA Wins at the Supreme Court

NEA wins U.S. Supreme Court case striking down mandatory maternity leave for pregnant teachers.
1980s
cafeteria worker

NEA Welcomes All Educators

Education support professionals gain full membership rights in NEA at the beginning of the decade, followed two years later by the creation of the NEA-Retired program.
2014
Vice President elect Rebecca Pringle, left, President elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Secretary-Treasurer elect Princess Moss in 2014

NEA Elects All-Female Leadership Team

For the first time in its history, the three top leadership positions at NEA are held by women and by persons of color, as Lily Eskelsen García, Becky Pringle, and Princess Moss are elected, respectively, President, Vice President, and Secretary-Treasurer by delegates at the Representative Assembly.
2015
Crowd shot of the 2015 Representative Assembly

NEA Commits to Eradicating Institutional Racism

Delegates to NEA Representative Assembly adopt New Business Item B which acknowledges the existence of institutional racism in the United States—the societal patterns and practices that have the net effect of imposing oppressive conditions and denying rights, opportunity, and equality based on race—and sets forth actions and strategies for its elimination.
2018
delegates at the 2018 Representative Assembly

Educators Continue to Push for Equity

The Representative Assembly adopts NEA Resolution I-52 which acknowledges the existence of White supremacy culture as a primary root cause of institutional racism, structural racism, and White privilege.
National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.