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The Niagara Movement as told by Eva Doyle

In July 1905, W. E. B. DuBois sent invitations to more than fifty workers and ministers to meet with him. Newspaper accounts from the Buffalo Enquirer dated July 12, 1905, recorded that African Americans from 18 states met at 521 Michigan Avenue in Buffalo. They met at the home of Mary B. Talbert and her husband, William H. Talbert. This was the first meeting of what was later to become known as the Niagara Movement.

While the Niagara Movement generally agreed with Booker T. Washington on the need for greater vocational education for Blacks and the improvement of the economic situation for Blacks, there was strong opposition to Mr. Washington's way of obtaining these goals. Those who participated in the Niagara Movement placed the responsibility for the problems of Blacks on the White community. They made definite demands for what needed to be accomplished in order for Blacks to have equality in the society. The Niagara Movement protested against the injustice faced by Blacks on many levels. There was a demand for free public education for all in both elementary and secondary schools.

The third conference of the Niagara Movement was held in Boston, Massachusetts in 1907 and a fourth conference was convened in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1908. Since the beginning of the Niagara Movement, Booker T. Washington made attempts to block it. Many newspapers were encouraged to omit any mention of the Oberlin meeting. Support for the Movement began to dwindle. Some of the members stopped paying dues. W. E. B. DuBois found it difficult to hold the Movement together due to a lack of financial support. After 1908, the Niagara Movement did not meet again as a single unit.

When the NAACP was organized in 1910, W. E. B. DuBois encouraged the members of the Niagara Movement to join. DuBois became one of the five incorporators of the NAACP along with Oswald Garrison, Walter E. Sachs, John Haynes Holmes, and Mary White Ovington. The Niagara Movement was then incorporated into the larger national organization.

The Niagara Movement was the first national organization of Blacks to demand full civil right for Blacks. It helped to educate Blacks to a policy of protest. W. E. B. DuBois, considered for a head of his time in thoughts and actions, provided the basis for the NAACP.

The Niagara Movement also brought to the forefront a woman named Mary B. Talbert. A marker stands today on Michigan Avenue next to El Bethel Assembly indicating where her house once stood. When the Niagara Movement merged with the NAACP, Mrs. Talbert became a director and was eventually elected as Vice President of that organization. Mrs. Talbert's religious and civic involvement continued throughout her life in Buffalo.

The Niagara Movement happened at a turning point in Buffalo's history. It is an era and a time for our youth to learn more about, and for adults to never forget. The Niagara Movement was a historical event that was held right here in Buffalo, New York.

The Buffalo Criterion   25 Feb, 2005

Mrs. Doyle - Buffalo Historian, teacher and columnist


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