Thomas E. Griffith, Jr. was the controversial president of the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP from 1935 to 1950. In 1935, Dr. H. Claude Hudson, the outgoing president of the branch, handpicked Griffith to be his successor, and the young attorney easily won the election. During this time period, the African American population of Los Angeles was rapidly expanding, and during the initial period of Griffith’s tenure membership in the branch followed suit. From 1941 to 1945, the branch expanded from 2,000 to 11,000 members.
Complaints soon were heard that Griffith had done little to advance the African American cause in the city. Some members of the NAACP began to grumble about Griffith’s refusal to delegate authority. A representative of the national NAACP sent to investigate concurred with this assessment. Griffith began to be further seen as inactive and out of step with his constituency. On a key murder investigation that the community wanted investigated, Griffith sided with the mayor and provided him with political cover rather than risk his position by pushing for a fuller investigation. Membership in the branch began to decrease from a high of 14,000 members in 1946 to only 6,000 members in 1948. There was a sharp division among those who had been in Los Angeles for a longer period of time and newer arrivals.
The chapter did make gains during this period. Griffith wrote a letter to the Governor and President to protest discrimination against Mexican-Americans in the Zoot-Suit Riot of 1943. More concretely, the NAACP won lawsuits allowing black and Mexican-Americans to swim in Pasadena city pools, against the city of Los Angeles for employment discrimination, and a Supreme Court decision invalidating real estate covenants. However, these gains did not preclude those who wanted to see Griffith ousted from accusing him of involvement with Communists. There is debate about how much of a factor Communist infiltration of the NAACP was, and how much of the accusation was political.