Theresa Derry 

Time Capsule Editor

Founded right after the turn of the century in February 1905, the Niagara Movement is known as America’s first and oldest civil rights organization. This organization was founded by a group of individuals who intended to advocate for social and political change amongst the African American population. After being rejected from being able to stay in hotels in Buffalo, New York, a group of famous civil rights activists congregated at Niagara Falls to formulate a list of principles ensuring equal opportunities for African Americans. Upon its formation, the movement drafted 19 specific principles that it would implement. Some of these principles were: suffrage and political rights, economic opportunity within the workforce, free education and a court free from racial discrimination. 

After this initial meeting, African American writer and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was influential in ensuring this newly formed social movement’s success. Du Bois, along with other notable African American businessmen, came together for four consecutive days in July 1905 to establish order and craft the official title for this newly-fashioned organization. After an initial meeting in western New York, 29 of these men crafted the official title of this new organization. The name of this group originated from the fact that its official guidelines were written in Niagara Falls. After the official naming of the group, Du Bois was appointed as the group’s general secretary. Du Bois and these other businessmen agreed to split the group into various committees, with each of these men returning to their home states to complete work at the movement’s individual state chapters. 

The Niagara Movement was successful in establishing 30 individual branches at the state level. Within these state chapters, activities were implemented to establish an awareness of the Niagara Movement’s principles. These activities intended to educate the public audience, and included the delivery of informational brochures, sending notices to the White House to object current government officials’ racial practices and to educate eligible voters about the racial injustices woven into Jim Crow laws. 

Despite the successes that America’s first civil rights organization achieved, the organization existed for only a short time. The Springfield, Illinois Race Riot of 1908 led to the downfall of the Niagara Movement. At this race riot, two African American men, who were held in a Springfield jail accused of supposed crimes, were being relocated to another jail in the city. During this transition, a white mob burned down 40 residences in the Springfield residential district, stole products from 10 local businesses and murdered two African American men. The Niagara Movement continued to attract white socialists who strove for equality, and, embracing this unusual phenomenon, Du Bois invited socialist Jane Addams and other white socialists of this era to help him establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Founded in 1909, the NAACP was not only active in the 20th century but still presently advocates for social justice in the 21st century. 

For the first seven years that the NAACP existed the group’s growth was slow, but Du Bois helped enhance the organization’s growth by writing the NAACP’s first nation-wide publication. Crafted by Du Bois in 1910, The Crisis was a monthly magazine that reported on critical issues African Americans were currently facing. This magazine was an outlet that provided knowledge to the American public about current racial disparities. In addition to The Crisis, Du Bois also made the current racial inequalities accessible to African American youth. The Brownies’ Book, published by Du Bois, was the first magazine to be published for African American youth in the United States. In addition to these two influential pulbications, in 1919, the NAACP published its crucial work entitled “Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1889-1918.” This work is an all-inclusive examination of lynching that was written by the NAACP to promote awareness for the racial injustice that African Americans endured. This book specifically focuses on the lynchings endured by 3,224 African Americans from 1889 to 1918. 

From 1920 to 1950, the NAACP had five main goals to ensure racial equality for all. These goals were to help promote anti-lynching legislation, to guarantee that people of all races had the right to vote, to ensure equal employment opportunities for African Americans, to advocate for fair treatment within the United States’ judicial system and to establish equal educational opportunities for African Americans. When advocating for these issues in the 20th century, the NAACP participated in boycotts and peaceful demonstrations to advocate for the political, economic and social rights of African Americans. A majority of the NAACP’s work targeted national issues of racial inequality by using political action to ensure stable civil rights legislation, as well as encouraging public education programs to provide support for minority students. 

Later in the 20th century, the NAACP continued to fight racial disparities by supporting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Voting Rights Act reinforced the 15th Amendment, which stated that no person could be denied the right to vote based on their race or skin color. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 forbid discrimination by any housing providers, who had been known to deny citizens housing based on skin color, religious beliefs, gender, national origin, familial status or disability. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 forbid discrimination at a new level, this time within the workplace. 

In the 21st century, the NAACP focuses on issues such as inequality within the workforce and the criminal justice system. In 2009, President Barack Obama, the first African American chief executive, spoke at the event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NAACP. 

From the Niagara Movement to the NAACP, the United States has been working to ensure the civil rights of African Americans for 114 years. 

 

Theresa Derry can be contacted at 

tderry@kscequinox.com