Today in Black History (July 11th)

The Niagara Movement (precursor of the NAACP) was founded July 11, 1905. This was the first significant black organized protest movement of the twentieth century.Pic above is of Niagara Movement Leaders (l-r) John Robert (J.R.) Clifford, Wm. E.B. DuBois, L.M. Hershaw, F.H.M. Murray

It also represented the attempt of a small yet articulate group of radicals to challenge the then dominant ideals of Booker T. Washington. At the turn of the century there were divisions in African-American political life: those who believed in accommodation, led by Booker T. Washington, and the more militant group, led by W.E.B. Du Bois and William M. Trotter.

In 1904, a closed-door meeting at Carnegie hall developed the Committee of Twelve for the Advancement of the Interest of the Negro Race, but it fell apart due to infighting. In February 1905, Du Bois and Trotter put together an all black group that included Frederick L. McGhee and C.E. Bentley. They invited 59 well know anti-Washington businessmen to a meeting that summer in western New York. On July 11 thru 14, 1905 on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, twenty-nine men met and formed a group they called the Niagara Movement. The name came because of the location and the “mighty current” of protest they wished to unleash.

Du Bois was named general secretary and the group split into various committees. The founders agreed to divide the work at hand among state chapters. At the end of the first year, the organizations had only 170 members and were poorly funded. Nevertheless they pursued their activities, distributing pamphlets, lobbying against Jim Crow, and sending circulars and protest letters to President Theodore Roosevelt after the Brownsville Incident in 1906. That summer the Niagara Movement held their second conference at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

Despite its impressive beginning, the Niagara Movement did not enjoy a long life. Washington’s determined opposition from the beginning kept any white empathy from assisting them in anyway. Even in its decline, the movement left a lasting legacy. In 1908, Du Bois had invited Mary White Ovington, a settlement worker, and socialist to be the movement’s first white member. By 1910, he had turned his allegiance to the newly formed NAACP, which inherited many of its goals from the Niagara Movement.

Why was the Niagara Movement important?

It created the first, modern platform for civil rights.
It cleared the way and charted a course for the NAACP in 1909.
It marked W.E.B. Du Bois’ first attempt at civil rights organization.
It rejected Booker T. Washington as the spokesman for African Americans.

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