back to 1905
The NIAGARA MOVEMENT
|In February 1905, W.E.B. Dubois, John Hope, Monroe Trotter, Frederick McGhee, C. E. Bentley and 27 others met secretly in the home of Mary B. Talbert, a prominant member of Buffalo's Michigan Street Baptist Church. For more on the Michigan Street Church also see 1836, 1845, and 1892) to adopt the resolutions which lead to the founding of the Niagara Movement. The Niagara Movement renounced Booker T. Washington's accommodation policies set forth in his famed "Atlanta Compromise" speech ten years earlier. The Niagara Movement's manifesto is, in the words of Du Bois, "We want full manhood suffrage and we want it now.... We are men! We want to be treated as men. And we shall win." They invited 59 well know African American 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. In the summer of 1906 the Niagara Movement held their second conference at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.
This movement will be a forerunner of the NAACP.
Despite the establishment of 30 branches and the achievement of a few scattered civil-rights victories at the local level, the group suffered from organizational weakness and lack of funds as well as a permanent headquarters or staff, and it never was able to attract mass support. After the Springfield (Ill.) Race Riot of 1908, Du Bois had invited Mary White Ovington, a settlement worker, and socialist to be the movement's first white member. Soon other white liberals joined with the nucleus of Niagara "militants" and with Du Bois, founded the NAACP the next year. The Niagara Movement disbanded in 1910, with the leadership of Du Bois forming the main continuity between the two organizations.
Pictured on the left below are:
Founders of The Niagara Movement at Niagara Falls
Top row: H. A.
Thompson, New York; Alonzo F. Herndon, Georgia; John Hope, Georgia;
2nd row: Fred McGhee, Minnesota; Norris Bumstead Herndon [son of Alonzo Herndon]; J. Max Barber, Illinois; W.E.B. Du Bois, Atlanta; Robert Bonner, Massachusetts;
3rd Row: Henry L. Baily, Washington, D.C.; Clement G. Morgan, Massachusetts; W.H.H. Hart, Washington, D.C.; and B.S. Smith,Kansas.
Founders of the Niagara movement, 1905 - enlarge
Women of Niagara movement in 1906- enlarge
group picture of Harper's Ferry Niagara movement
THE NIAGARA MOVEMENT's
DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, 1905
Progress: The members of the conference, known as the Niagara Movement, assembled in annual meeting at Buffalo, July 11th, 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 deserts.
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 for delinquents, and the abolition of the dehumanizing convict-lease system.
Public Opinion: We note with alarm the evident retrogression in this and of land of sound public opinion on the subject of manhood rights, republican government and human brotherhood, and 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.
Health: We plead for health-- for an opportunity to live in decent houses and localities, for a chance to rear our children in physical and moral cleanliness.
Employers and Labor Unions: We hold up for public execration the conduct of tow opposite classes of men: The practice among employers of importing ignorant Negro-Americans laborers in emergencies, and then affording them neither protection nor permanent employment, and the practice of labor unions in proscribing and boycotting and oppressing thousands of their fellow-toilers, simply because they are black. These methods have accentuated and will accentuate the war of labor and capital, and they are disgraceful to both sides.
Protest: We refuse to allow the impression to remain that the Negro-American assents to inferiority, is submissive under oppression and apologetic before insults. Through helplessness we may submit, but the voice of protest of ten million Americans must never cease to assail the ears of their follows, so long as America is unjust.
Color-Line: Any discrimination based simply on race or color is barbarous, we care not how hallowed it be by custom expediency or prejudice. Differences made on account of ignorance, immorality, or disease are legitimate methods of fighting evil, and against them we have no word of protest, but discriminations based simply and solely on physical peculiarities, place of birth, color of skin, are relics of that unreasoning human savagery of which the world is and ought to be thoroughly ashamed.
"Jim Crow" Cars: We protest against the"Jim Crow" car, since its effect is and must be to make us pay first-class fare for third-class accommodations, render us open to insults and discomfort and to crucify wantonly our womanhood and self-respect.
Soldiers: We regret that his nation has never seen fit adequately to reward the black soldiers who, in its five wars, have defended their county with their blood, and yet have been systematically denied the promotions which their abilities deserve. And we regard as unjust, the exclusion of black boys from the military and naval training schools.
War Amendments: We urge upon Congress the enactment of appropriate legislation for securing the proper enforcement of those articles of freedom, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution of the United States.
Oppression: We repudiate the monstrous doctrine that the oppressor should be the sole authority as to the rights of the oppressed. The Negro race in America stolen, ravished and degraded, struggling up through difficulties and oppression, needs sympathy and receives criticism: needs help and is given hindrance, needs protection and is given mob-violence, needs justice and is given charity, needs leadership and is given cowardice and apology, needs bread and is given a stone. This nation will never stand justified before God until these things are changed.
The Church: Especially are we surprised and astonished at the recent attitude of the church of Christ-- of an increase of a desire to bow to racial prejudice, to narrow the bounds of human brotherhood, and to segregate black men to some outer sanctuary. This is wrong, unchristian and disgraceful to the twentieth century civilization.
Agitation: Of the above grievance we do not hesitate to complain, and to complain loudly and insistently. To ignore, overlook, or apologize for these wrongs is to prove ourselves unworthy of freedom. Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty, and toward this goal the Niagara Movement has started and asks the cooperation of all men of all races.
Help: At the same time we want to acknowledge with deep thankfulness the help of our fellowmen from the Abolitionists down to those who today still stand for equal opportunity and who have given and still give of their wealth and of their poverty for our advancement.
Duties: And while we are demanding and ought to demand, and will continue to demand the rights enumerated above, God forbid that we should ever forget to urge corresponding duties upon our people:
This statement, complaint and prayer we submit to the American people, and Almighty God.
Note: I recently received the following information
about the boy in the second row of the Founder's photo:
Norris Bumstead Herndon son of Alonzo Franklin Herndon attended the conference with his father and mother. Adrienne McNeil Herndon was a well trained actress, vocalist and teacher of elocution at Atlanta University. She was well aware of the issues that the Niagara men were meeting about and most likely was the reason behind her husband A. F Herndon being there at the conference. After all Herndon practiced more of the Booker T. philosophy of using skilled labor as a means of success, by turning his trade of being a barber to prominent white men into a multi million dollar enterprise. Norris Herndon went on to earn a bachelors from Atlanta University and an MBA from Harvard in the 1920's. Norris eventually took over the Atlanta Life Insurance company, which his father established. While at the helm Norris greatly furthered the growth of the company. He and his parents were well known and respected by leading citizens of both black and white Atlanta. The company and work of the Herndons is still present in Atlanta.
Address to the Country
Issued at second conference, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, 1906
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 flour- ished 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 represent- atives of stolen votes still sit in the nation's capital. Discrimination in travel and public accom- modation 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.
Against this the Niagara Movement eternally protests. We will not be satisfied to take one jot or tittle less than our full manhood rights. We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselves alone but for all true Americans. It is a fight for ideals, lest this, our common fatherland, false to its founding, become in truth the land of the thief and the home of the Slave - a by-word and a hissing among the nations for its sounding pretentions and pitiful accomplishment.
Never before in the modern age has a great and civilized folk threatened to adopt so cowardly a creed in the treatment of its fellow-citizens born and bred on its soil. Stripped of verbiage and subterfuge and in its naked nastiness the new American creed says: Fear to let black men even try to rise lest they become the equals of the white. And this is the land that pro- fesses to follow Jesus Christ. The blasphemy of such a course is only matcbed by its cowar- dice.
In detail our demands are clear and unequivocal. First, we would vote; with the right to vote goes everything: Freedom, manhood, the honor of your wives, the chastity of your daughters, the right to work, and the chance to rise, and let no man listen to those who deny this.
We want full manhood suffrage, and we want it now, henceforth and forever.
Second. We want discrimination in public accommodation to cease. Separation in railway and street cars, based simply on race and color, is un-American, un-democratic, and silly. We protest against all such discrimination.
Third. We claim the right of freemen to walk, talk, and be with them that to be with us. No man has a right to choose another man's friends, and to attempt to do so is an impudent interference with the most fundamental human privilege.
Fourth. We want the laws enforced against rich as well as poor; against Capitalist as well as Laborer; against white as well as black. We are not more lawless than the white race, we are more often arrested, convicted, and mobbed. We want justice even for criminals and outlaws. We want the Constitution of the country enforced. We want Congress to take charge of Con- gressional elections. We want the Fourteenth amendment carried out to the letter and every State disfranchised in Congress which attempts to disfranchise its rightful voters. We want the Fifteenth amendment enforced and no State allowed to base its franchise simply on color.
The failure of the Republican Party in Congress at the session just closed to redeem its pledge of 1904 with reference to suffrage conditions at the South seems a plain, deliberate, and premeditated breach of promise, and stamps that party as guilty of obtaining votes under false pretense.
Fifth. We want our children educated. The school system in the country districts of the South is a disgrace and in few towns and cities are the Negro schools what they ought to be. We want the national government to step in and wipe out illiteracy in the South. Either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.
And when we call for education we mean real education. We believe in work. We ourselves are workers, but work is not necessarily education. Education is the development of power and ideal. We want our children trained as lligent human beings should be, and we will fight for all time against any proposal to educate black boys and girls simply as servants and under- lings, or simpIy for the use of other people. They have a right to know, to think, to aspire.
These are some of the chief things which we want. How shall we get them? By voting where we may vote, by persistent, unceasing agitation; by hammering at the truth, by sacrifice and work.
We do not believe in violence, neither in the despised violence of the raid nor the lauded vio- lence of the soldier, nor the barbarous violence of the mob, but we do believe in John Brown, in that incarnate spirit of justice, that hatred of a lie, that willingness to sacrifice money, reputa- tion, and life itself on the altar of right. And here on the scene of John Brown's martyrdom we reconsecrate ourselves, our honor, our property to the final emancipation of the race which John Brown died to make free.
Our enemies; triumphant for the present, are fighting the stars in their courses. Justice and humanity must prevail. We live to tell these dark brothers of ours--scattered in counsel, waver- ing and weak - that no bribe of money or notoriety, rlo promise of wealth or fame, is worth the surrender of a people's manhood or the loss of a man's self-respect. We refuse to surren- der the leadership of this race to cowards and bucklers. We are men; we will be treated as men. On this rock we have planted our banners. We will never give up, though the trump of doom find us still fighting.
And we shall win. The past promised it, the present foretells it. Thank God for John Brown! Thank God for Garrison and Douglass! Sumner and Phillips, Nat Turner and Robert Gould Shaw, and all the hallowed dead who died for freedom! Thank God for all those to-day, few though their voices be, who have not forgotten the divine brotherhood of all men white and black, rich and poor, fortunate and unfortunate.
We appeal to the young men and women of this nation, to those whose nostrils are not yet befouled by greed and snobbery and racial narrowness: Stand up for the right, prove your- selves worthy of your heritage and whether born north or south dare to treat men as men. Cannot the nation that has absorbed ten million foreigners into its political life without catas- trophe absorb ten million Negro Americans into that same political life at less cost than their unjust and illegal exclusion will involve?
Courage brothers! The battle for humanity is not lost or losing. All across the skies sit signs of promise. The Slav is raising in his might, the yellow millions are tasting liberty, the black Africans are writhing toward the light, and everywhere the laborer, with ballot in his hand, is voting open the gates of Opportunity and Peace. The morning breaks over blood-stained hills. We must not falter, we may not shrink. Above are the everlasting stars.
references: W.E.B. DuBois Reader; photo reference
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