The Niagara Movement

1 January 2017

The organization received its name for the “mighty current” effect they would have on black oppression and social injustice to all races. These eager intellectuals sought to motivate and educate people of all races and to combat the evils of white supremacy, Jim Crow, and black oppression. Being a profound orator, Du Bois along with the members of the Niagara Movement would oppose Booker T. Washington and seek to persuade the masses that not accommodation, but education was the key to black prosperity.

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In July of 1905, annoyed by Washington’s continued accommodating policies towards whites and his influence in the black community, W. E. B. Du Bois sent documents to other “like-minded” men which informed them of a meeting to be held to discuss the race problem in the United States. “Drafted and circulated by Du Bois in early June, the call stated two forthright purposes: “organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth”; and opposition to “present methods of strangling honest criticism (Lewis. 16). ”

Over forty men were invited. Many of whom were his colleagues. Twenty-nine men met in Ontario, Canada under the understanding that something had to be done about the race problem, as well as Booker T. Washington. The meeting was held to discuss alternative solutions to ending racial discrimination, disenfranchisement of blacks, and the promotion of black education. Being in opposition to Washington, who was the (hand-picked) spokesman for the black race, the movement sought more militant ways of deflecting central attitudes towards racism.

This organization would soon plant their feet in the soil of American politics, and they would not be moved without a change. The very next year on August 15, 1906 the movement would convene again, but this time on American turf. The site of the historically famous John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia would become the second meeting place of the movement. Du Bois stated that this meeting was “one of the greatest meetings American Negroes ever held. ”

Du Bois would eventually make a speech regarding the purposes of the second convention. The men of the Niagara Movement coming from the toil of the year’s hard work and pausing a moment from the earning of their daily bread turn toward the nation and again ask in the name of ten million the privilege of a hearing. In the past year the work of the Negro hater has flourished in the land. Step by step the defenders of the rights of American citizens have retreated. The work of stealing the black man’s ballot has progressed and the fifty and more representatives of stolen votes still sit in the nation’s capital.

Discrimination in travel and public accommodation has so spread that some of our weaker brethren are actually afraid to thunder against color discrimination as such and are simply whispering for ordinary decencies (Du Bois). ” As the next two years toiled on, and black oppression ascended throughout the country, members of the Niagara Movement would convene again in Oberlin, Ohio. Du Bois, who was the general secretary of the movement, was extremely enthusiastic of the movements’ accomplishments up to this period. The convention would convene from August 31 until September 2 with two to three meetings held each day.

The movement spent their sessions writing and re-writing resolutions, making conventional addresses, voting on the passage of articles and electing new committee members. Mason Hawkins of Baltimore, Maryland would be elected as the incoming treasurer and Du Bois would remain the general secretary. The convention was open to the public and esteemed black intellectuals from the entire country were present to take part in this historical move of black preparedness.

The Niagara Movement would publish the “Declaration of Principles” in 1905. Almost entirely authored by William Du Bois, the ocument stated: “Progress: The members of the conference, known as the Niagara Movement, assembled in annual meeting at Buffalo, July 11th, 12th and 13th, 1905, congratulate the Negro-Americans on certain undoubted evidences of progress in the last decade, particularly the increase of intelligence, the buying of property, the checking of crime, the uplift in home life, the advance in literature and art, and the demonstration of constructive and executive ability in the conduct of great religious, economic and educational institutions .

Suffrage: At the same time, we believe that this class of American citizens should protest emphatically and continually against the curtailment of their political rights. We believe in manhood suffrage; we believe that no man is so good, intelligent or wealthy as to be entrusted wholly with the welfare of his neighbor. Civil Liberty: We believe also in protest against the curtailment of our civil rights. All American citizens have the right to equal treatment in places of public entertainment according to their behavior and desert.

Economic Opportunity: We especially complain against the denial of equal opportunities to us in economic life; in the rural districts of the South this amounts to peonage and virtual slavery; all over the South it tends to crush labor and small business enterprises; and everywhere American prejudice, helped often by iniquitous laws, is making it more difficult for Negro-Americans to earn a decent living. Education: Common school education should be free to all American children and compulsory.

High school training should be adequately provided for all, and college training should be the monopoly of no class or race in any section of our common country. We believe that, in defense of our own institutions, the United States should aid common school education, particularly in the South, and we especially recommend concerted agitation to this end. We urge an increase in public high school facilities in the South, where the Negro-Americans are almost wholly without such provisions.

We favor well-equipped trade and technical schools for the training of artisans, and the need of adequate and liberal endowment for a few institutions of higher education must be patent to sincere well-wishers of the race. Courts: We demand upright judges in courts, juries selected without discrimination on account of color and the same measure of punishment and the same efforts at reformation for black as for white offenders. We need orphanages and farm schools for dependent children, juvenile reformatories fox delinquents, and the abolition of the dehumanizing convict-lease system.

Public Opinion: We note with alarm the evident retrogression in this land of sound public opinion on the subject of manhood rights, republican government and human brotherhood, arid we pray God that this nation will not degenerate into a mob of boasters and oppressors, but rather will return to the faith of the fathers, that all men were created free and equal, with certain unalienable rights. Suppression and apologetic before insults.

Through helplessness we may submit, but the voice of protest of ten million Americans…… (The Niagara Movement, 1905). By the promotion of these principles, the Niagara Movement made it obvious that discrimination and/or segregation of any kind is unacceptable and would not be tolerated. The document deemed social, political and racial injustice was rationally inappropriate whether it be from the government or even the church. The life of William Du Bois was the complete opposite of his peer and opponent, Booker T. Washington. Du Bois was born to a free black family in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868. Although, both of Du Bois’ parents were predominantly black, he identified himself as a mulatto.

The African American population in his hometown was rigidly small; henceforth his education was significantly superior to that of the average black child. Du Bois was encouraged by many of his white teachers to pursue a college education. With help from the community, Du Bois enrolled and later graduated from the Historically Black College known as Fisk University. William Du Bois outstandingly excelled in his academic career. After commencing from Fisk, he would travel to Ohio to do graduate work at Oberlin University.

Once arriving back in the United States, Du Bois applied and was accepted to the Ivy- League Harvard University where he later became the first African- American to receive a Ph. D. Du Bois worked with some of the world’s most prominent social scientist and he himself became an international author, sociologist and race leader. Being a stratified sociologist, W. E. B. Du Bois developed several theories regarding race problem. For the Niagara Movement, the key to race problem was simply education. They believed that there was power in knowledge and wisdom.

The movement adopted Du Bois’ theory of the “educated elite. ” This theory took place in two phases that adjusted his complete stance on social analysis. “The first phase encompasses the years of 1897 to1904. During this phase, Du Bois began to define the contours of the problems of the Black population; he also begins to assess the need for an intellectual cadre that would serve as an agent of societal guidance. The second phase (1906-1952) is marked by Du Bois’ thrust to merge his theoretical assumptions on leadership with practical possibilities regarding specific organizations and pro- grams.

This phase, which covers the greater part of his life, sees Du Bois formally and partially forsakes his earlier declared commitment to a scientific sociology in order to enter the public arena as a social activist (Dennis 389). ” The movement believed in the strength of education as a key to ascendency for the rights of determined humans. With his close friend, colleague as well the co-founder of the Niagara Movement, William Trotter, W. E. B. Du Bois would cultivate the “talented tenth” idea.

While Du Bois felt that in order to succeed, one must be educated, he also felt that the race could only be saved by those who were educated. This notion was heavily adopted and transmitted throughout the Niagara Movement. In the formation of the movement, Du Bois invited only people who he thought would contribute to this talented tenth ideal. “Those signing represented the vanguard of the Talented Tenth-educators, lawyers, publishers, physicians, ministers, and several businessmen secure enough in their professions and principles to risk Booker T.

Washington’s retribution. Du Bois described them as “educated, determined, and unpurchasable”- fifty odd men he had hoped but doubted he could find who “had not bowed the knee to Baal (Lewis 316). ” Made public by Du Bois in his essay, he described a group of ten black men who would be the pioneers for social change in the African American Community and ultimately save the race from the ranks of white supremacy. These individuals were deemed elite because of their extraordinary success in their education, books, speeches and direct action.

The movement felt power in education. “Du Bois felt entirely the strength of his intellect and desired to exercise it as another might feel and want to exercise the strength of his arm. He fully recognized that he was clearly superior, in the western world’s estimation of equality of mind, in intellectual capacity. He was not among the best black minds of his time; he was among the best minds of his time (Gibson, Du Bois 23). ” Emerging as the second African American race leader, Booker T. Washington was a profound orator, author and educator.

Many historians believe that Washington was hand-picked by his mentor, Frederick Douglass to be the next spokesman of the black community. After the emancipation of slaves, Washington and his family moved to West Virginia where he would enroll ad graduate from the esteemed Historically Black College, Hampton University. Many years later, as an attempt to expand the number of black educational institutions by the American Missionary Society, Washington with the recommendation of Samuel Armstrong will go on to find the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, AL.

Being only 25 when the school started, Washington was eager to educate young blacks on the techniques of agriculture and mechanics. He believed that the key to black success was through land ownership, thrift, accommodation as well as education. After the finding of Tuskegee Institute and Washington’s monumental Atlanta Cotton Address of 1895, W. E. B. Du Bois began criticizing Washington’s journal, the Tuskegee Machine for its accomodationist stance. The members of the Niagara Movement, who were vividly opposed to Washington, began to write their own publications repudiating Washington and his institution.

Moreover, they sought him out as a conspirator and traitor. In The Art of the Possible, by Verney, the author states “publicly, the Tuskegean accepted the southern white notion that slavery had served as a “civilizing school” for blacks, rescuing them from savagery and ignorance. When addressing a northern audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, on 23 February 1903, Washington pithily remarked that “I confine myself to a statement of cold bare facts when I say that when the Negro went into slavery, he was a pagan; when he ended his period of bondage he had a religion.

Moreover, “when he went into slavery, he was without anything which might properly be called a language; when he came out of slavery he was able to speak the English tongue with force and intellect (Verney 41). ” Although the Niagara Movement was not a Pan-African Movement, it shared many of the Pan-African beliefs. The movement became overwhelmingly dismayed with Washington. If the entire black race were to adopt Washington’s views of black accommodation, it would surely land the race back into the shackles of slavery.

The second figure head of the Niagara Movement was William Monroe Trotter. Born in the north, his early life was similar to that of Du Bois’. Trotter, who was also supremely hostile to the Tuskegee Conservative, would later launch his own organization known as the National Equal Rights League. Although had many allies of similar beliefs, his organization would never gain any notable recognition of members. Alcoholism and the inability to work well with others would call for the decline in his movement. Trotter would die on his birthday, April 7, 1934 at the age of 62.

In 1908, the Springfield Race Riot emerged as one of the most violent and destructive acts of rioting in United States history. In the north during this time, racial tensions were especially high due to the fierce competition in the labor market between blacks and whites. The sole incident started when a black man was accused of breaking into a white man’s home, and after a brawl between the two of them, the white (Charles Ballard) was murdered. A mob of white coal miners gathered to find the suspect. As tensions increased, the mob would rob a Jewish owned gun shop to put an end to the black problem.

After a number of lynching’s, and home-burnings over four-thousand blacks fled the city. The mass riot took a total of seven lives and over forty black-owned businesses. On February 12, 1909 a group of stout abolitionists along with W. E. B. Du Bois would find the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP was a formation of black intellectuals as well as concerned whites who sought to ensure the educational, political, social and economic quality of all races. The organization was initially called the National Negro Committee, however a number of its members were white.

It was not until the second conference in May of 1909 that the organization would devise the name of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization would become incorporated two years later in 1911. The formation of the NAACP would call for the steady decline in the Niagara Movement. Even though movement shared over thirty thriving branches, it would still descend. The Niagara Movement had accomplished a number of local as well as national victories for the civil rights of blacks.

The movement mainly declined due to lack of funds, but historians also contend that the decline was caused by the lack of organization and dissenting members. Although the members of the movement were of great prestige, they were not extremely wealthy. Being a movement of the elite, the organization was never able to gain mass attention and membership would decline. Being the national race leader Booker Washington would shun the movement, insuring that it received little to no publicity in the black press. Du Bois would eventually leave the Niagara Movement and become the only black member on the board of the NAACP.

As time continued in the mid-twentieth century, blacks continued to demand civil liberties and the protection of their liberties. With the support of whites and blacks alike in the formation of many black justice organizations such as the Southern Leadership Conference, the NAACP and the Montgomery Civil Rights Movement, schools would be desegregated, blacks were given the right to vote and African Americans became citizens. The passage if the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth amendments as well as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 gave blacks equal protection of the laws.

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