The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was established in February, 1909. The NAACP started its own magazine, Crisis in November, 1910. It was named after a popular poem, The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell. The magazine was edited by William Du Bois and the first edition had sixteen page magazine and cost 10 cents a copy.
In his first editorial William Du Bois said that Crisis would "be first and foremost a newspaper", and secondly, it would serve as a review of opinion and literature. Finally it would stand "for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempts to gain these rights and realize these ideals."
Early contributors to early issues included Oswald Garrison Villard, Jane Addams, Adela Hunt Logan, Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells and Charles Edward Russell. The magazine soon built up a large readership amongst black people and white sympathizers. In January, 1911, it sold 3,000, February 4,000 and March 6,000. Circulation reached 50,000 by 1917 and peaked at 100,000 in 1919. This made it more popular than established journals such as the New Republic and The Nation.
In the journal William Du Bois campaigned against lynching, Jim Crow laws, sexual inequality. He told his readers in October, 1911, that "every argument for Negro suffrage is an argument for women's suffrage." In 1912 he supported Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party candidate for president. He particularly admired the way that Debs refused to address segregated audiences in the South.
William Du Bois supported United States involvement in the First World War. This caused him to break with the editors of other African American journals such as Chandler Owen and Philip Randolph (The Messenger) and Hubert Harrison (The Voice). Harrison was particularly upset by an article in The Crisis where he argued that: "Let, us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks."
The circulation of The Crisis continued to grow. The average monthly sales reached 30,000 in 1915. Sometimes members of the NAACP board questioned the methods that William Du Bois used to promote the magazine. The use of a light-skinned beautiful woman on the front-cover caused a great deal of controversy and Oswald Garrison Villard was one of the many members of the organisation who complained.
The Crisis continued to grow and in September 1916 circulation almost reached 50,000. The magazine finally reached its editor's objective when the December, 1918 edition sold 53,750 copies. The following year it was selling 100,000 copies a month making it more popular than established journals such as the New Republic and The Nation.
Although Du Bois had originally been sympathetic to Black Nationalism, after the First World War he became highly critical of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Du Bois described the leader of the UNIA as "a lunatic or traitor" and Garvey retaliated by calling him a "white man's nigger".
William Du Bois became increasingly militant and by the 1930s he was accused of being a Marxist. After a controversial editorial in January, 1934, the NAACP board demanded that unless he reflected the views of the organization he should resign. This he agreed to do and was replaced by the more moderate Roy Wilkins.