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Joel Elias Spingarn, a white Jewish-American educator, literary critic, and activist, was born on this date in 1875 in New York City.
He was the older brother of Arthur Spingarn and a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University from 1899 to 1911. He also served as a Colonel in the U.S. Army in World War I. In 1919, he co-founded the publishing firm Harcourt, Brace and Company. Spingarn helped settle a public dispute between W.E.B. DuBois and the followers of Booker T. Washington.
Springarn also helped build the concept of a unified Black movement by founding the NAACP. Spingarn was one of the first Jewish leaders of the NAACP, its second president, and chairman of its board from 1913 until he died in 1939. In 1913, he established the Spingarn medal, awarded annually for outstanding achievement by an African American. He supported the works of Black writers during the Harlem Renaissance, a period of intense Black literary activity in the 1920s.
Joel Spingarn died on July 26, 1939. Spingarn Senior High School in Washington, D.C., is named for him.