W.E.B Du Bois & The Niagara Movement
W.E.B Du Bois was a teacher, a historian and a sociologist. He was also the first Black man to
earn an PhD in Social Sciences in the United States. Upon realizing that little to no progress had been made since the emancipation proclamation, Du Bois felt that self-improvement through education was the means by which African Americans could escape the indignities of the racism they faced. To that end, Du Bois published “The Souls of Black Folk” which called for higher education among African Americans. Du Bois’ efforts led to the creation of the Niagara Movement.
Du Bois demanded civil rights for all Black people and, in July 1905, he gathered like-minded individuals, such as Ida B. Wells, to help in this goal. These individuals gathered together in Niagara Falls in Canada in a brave showing of solidarity, despite the professional and personal risks they faced. The Niagara Movement, so named after the location of their first meeting, called for the right to vote, the desegregation of public transit, and all other rights of free-born Americans.
Despite many efforts to defame the group, the Niagara Movement lasted for several years.
Eventually, the force of the Niagara Movement petered out and they joined forces with the
NAACP. Du Bois was then hired as the Director of Publicity and Research, as well as the editor of the NAACP’s journal, the Crisis.
W.E.B Du Bois’ Niagara Movement is one to be highlighted as it led to the creation and
proliferation of the NAACP, a now famous organization which has and continues to positively
impact the lives and experiences of African-Americans.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established in 1909 by both Black and White activists as a response to ongoing violence against Black people in New York. The NAACP is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization and now has over 2,200 branches and approximately 500,000 members worldwide.
In the early 1900’s W.E.B Du Bois – who was the only black member of the NAACP’s leadership - and the rest of the NAACP members promised to champion equal rights and eliminate racial prejudice, and to “advance the interest of colored citizens” in regard to voting rights, legal justice and educational and employment opportunities.
The NAACP has had a vast impact on the lives of African Americans since its inception.
In 1917, around 10,000 people in New York City participated in an NAACP-organized silent
march to protest lynchings and other violence against African Americans. This march was one of the first mass demonstrations in America against racial violence and would go on to influence many more.
Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP were key during the Civil Rights Era and brought forth a new way of living for African Americans when the U.S Supreme Court decided in the famous case of Brown vs. Board of Education that segregation would be outlawed in public schools.
Many acts and laws were passed in favour of the NAACP and African Americans across the
nation; the NAACP even organized the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr.
famously delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Today, the NAACP is focused on issues such as inequality in jobs, education, health care and the criminal justice system, as well as protecting voting rights. The group also has pushed for the removal of Confederate flags and statues from public property nationwide.
The Anti-Lynching Movement
Lynching (the illegal hangings of African Americans committed primarily by white supremacists) was a widespread practice in America in the early 1900’s. The NAACP estimated that in 1920 an average of two African Americans were killed by lynching every week.
When discussing Anti-Lynching, it is important to make note of the very law that came into
place to stop it. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was first brought to light in 1918 by Leonidas Dyer from St. Louis, Missouri. He was a republican. It was put into action to make people aware that lynching was a federal crime. Although this bill received the backing of President Harding in 1920, the bill was not passed by Senate. Although more than 200 similar bills would follow and although First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a supporter of anti-lynching legislation, the United States Congress never prohibited lynching in the 20th century due to strong opposition from Senators in the south.
While the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was introduced in 1918, it was not until 100 years later, in
2018 that Senate would pass a similar anti-lynching bill; the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act. This act was sponsored by Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Tim Scott, the only Black Senate members in 2018. It has not yet been passed by the House of Representatives or signed by the President.
Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican black nationalist and the leader of the Pan-Africanism
movement who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and brought it to American in 1916. He also founded the Negro World Newspaper, the Negroes Factory
Association, and a shipping company called the Black Star Line. Garvey believed in the strength and beauty in blackness, called for a sense of racial pride among African-Americans, and taught that Black people must flee America in favour of Africa to build a country of their own to obtain freedom and justice.
Ultimately, Garvey believed that “we must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs,
and elevate to positions of fame and honor black men and women who have made their
distinct contributions to our racial history … I am the equal of any white man; I want you to feel the same way.”
Marcus Garvey is to be to remembered for creating the UNIA which had some 500,000
followers, for inspiring the likes of Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, and for coining the phrase “Black is Beautiful.”
Brown v. Board of Education, May 17, 1954
Brown v. Board of Education was named for Oliver Brown, whose daughter was denied from
attending an all-white school in Kansas. A class-action lawsuit was filed by the NAACP on behalf of Brown and others and was argued primarily by Thurgood Marshall, who would later become the first African-American named to the the Supreme Court.
In this 1954 case the U.S. Supreme court decided that the racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional and violated the 14th amendment. This verdict was especially influential as it overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” which was in effect for 60 years and spoke to the injustices of the Jim Crow Era.
This case was a historic victory which helped to fuel the Civil Rights movement and set a legal precedent to be used to legally end segregation in other facilities and institutions.
Emmett Louis Till was born on July 25, 1941 and died August 28, 1955. He was a 14 year-old
black boy who was lynched in Mississippi after being accused of whistling at, and therefore
upsetting, a white woman in her family ran grocery store. Several days after this incident, two
white men kidnapped, beat and shot Till before throwing his body in a river for his alleged
breach of the Jim Crow norms.
Emmett Till’s funeral was held with an open-casket as his mother, Mamie Till, hoped that this
act would bring attention to her son’s brutal murder and the larger societal issues it
represented. Till’s body was on display for five days, was seen by the thousands that attended his funeral and was published in Jet Magazine and the Chicago Defender, resulting in international outrage that would help to fuel the Civil Rights Movement. A city-wide bus
boycott in Montogmery, Alabama began just one month after the acquittal of Emmett Till’s
The barbarity of his murder and the fact that his murderers were acquitted by an all-white, allmale jury brought a lot of attention to the history of violent killings in the United States.
In 2017, it was made public that the woman who claimed that Emmett Till had whistled at her
in 1955 had recanted parts of her account of that day’s events. In 2018, the Justice Department opened a new inquiry into the case.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States, a long struggle in our history, was born with
the goal of enacting laws that made it legal for African Americans to simply enjoy what their
white counterparts had always enjoyed; to put a stop to racial segregation and prejudice in
The Civil Rights Movement was composed of many various battles and victories nationwide and was prominent between the 1950’s and the 1960’s. After years of direct action, protests, and campaigns, the Movement eventually gained recognition in federal law.
Some of the most famous Civil Rights demonstrations and accomplishments include:
Rosa Park’s refusal to vacate her bus seat for a white rider in 1955 and the subsequent
bus boycott that led to the desegregation of the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama;
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) sit-ins at restaurants,
libraries, beaches, hotels and other establishments in 1960;
The March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in
The Civil Rights Act of 1964; and
The Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.
The Civil Rights Act allowed the federal government to better and more fully protect citizens
against discrimination due to race, religion, sex or national origin. This Act led to the
desegregation of most public institutions and establishments, ensured equal treatment of
minorities in the workplace, and systematically guaranteed equal voting rights. This Act also led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which further banned discriminatory practices in voting and housing.
The signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which Martin Luther King Jr. called a second
emancipation, is considered one of, if not the crowning legislative achievement of the Civil
Rights Movement. Though the Civil Rights Movement was by no means an end to the struggle against racism, it brought about then end of legal segregation in the United States.
The Black Panthers
The Black Panther Party (BPP) was a political party founded by Huey Newton and Booby Seale in 1966, after the assassination of Malcolm X. The Party aimed to bring attention to police brutality in black communities and to that end, they regularly monitored police activity in urban areas. At its peak, the BPP had roughly 2,000 members nationwide. The BPP was all about giving back to the black community, uplifting black people, living and teaching that black is beautiful, making it a trend of women and men to wear their natural hair and dressing in all black as a representation of the party. The BPP made it cool to be black.
In addition to uplifting the population of African Americans, the Black Panther Party also aimed to bring about an increase in the election of Black political officials and leaders.
The BPP introduced numerous political activities and social programs such as free breakfast
programs, free health clinics, and The Ten-Point Program which called for the end to police
brutality, employment for African Americans, and justice for all. Despite the well-intended goals of the BPP, the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover labeled the BPP as one of the biggest threats to America's safety and launched the COINTELPRO with hopes of destroying the party. The Black Panther Party dissolved in 1982.
Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2013 following the acquittal of George
Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin and broadened in 2014 after the murders of Mike
Brown and Eric Gardner. BLM now has over 40 chapters worldwide and is the largest black-led protest campaign since the 1960’s.
This movement was created to remind of and highlight the contributions, humanity, and
resilience of African Americans despite their oppression. BLM currently offers programs
resources and toolkits designed to address the systematic issues that affect African Americans on a daily basis.
While BLM was inspired by the civil rights movement, the black panthers, black feminists, panAfricanism and more, it also varies from these movements in several ways. Most notably, BLM is not led by a charismatic leader, is opposed to respectability politics, and has social media as a tool through which to mobilize and inspire.