The Niagara Movement: A ‘mighty current’ of Negro activism

Black History Month


Before the NAACP, there was the Niagara Movement.

The first few years of the 20th century were bleak for the anxious members of the civil rights movement.

It was a rocky post-Reconstruction era, with the Supreme Court’s “separate but equal” decision of Plessy v. Ferguson and the accommodationist views of Booker T. Washington, with his “Atlanta Compromise” speech that advocated education to combat oppressive Jim Crow laws.

The Niagara Movement, led in part by W.E.B. Du Bois, brought together 29 black men from as far west as Kansas and as far south as Georgia to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls on July 11, 1905. The location was meant to represent the “mighty current” of protest the group planned to unleash.

The organization distributed pamphlets, lobbied against Jim Crow, and sent protest letters to President Theodore Roosevelt about racial prejudice throughout the country.

The group convened again 13 months later — from Aug. 15-19, 1906 — at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

That site was chosen because of its connection to abolitionist John Brown, who occupied the armory there with a small group of supporters in a raid that drew troops from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to defeat them. Brown believed arming slaves was the only way to overthrow the oppressive system.

By 1906 the Niagara Movement’s membership had grown to 170, and it included women — a change that created friction among the group’s leaders.

Nevertheless, Du Bois later called the August gathering “one of the greatest meetings that American Negroes ever held.” It featured speakers such as the son of Frederick Douglass.

The group disbanded in 1910 or 1911 (the biographical date varies), with many of its members by then forming the foundation of the NAACP.

Celebrate Black History Month

Throughout February, we’ll spotlight a different African-American pioneer in the daily Living section Monday through Thursday and Saturday, and in the Metro section on Fridays and Sundays. Go to myAJC.com/black-history-month for more subscriber exclusives on people, places and organizations that have changed the world, and to see videos on the African-American pioneer featured here each day.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

MLK’s nephew, Isaac Farris Jr., still says Trump is not a racist
MLK’s nephew, Isaac Farris Jr., still says Trump is not a racist

Isaac Newton Farris Jr., the nephew of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., on Monday stood behind his comments last week that President Trump is not a racist “in the traditional sense that we have known racists.” In a late night interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Farris said he didn’t think Trump “looks at people...
Good Samaritan riding Chicago train gives snow boots to homeless man
Good Samaritan riding Chicago train gives snow boots to homeless man

Giving someone the shirt off your back is a time-worn phrase that means performing an act of kindness to help someone. A Chicago man helped a homeless man by giving him the snow boots off his feet, WLS reported. Jessica Bell posted the good Samaritan act on Facebook. She said she was riding a train home last week when she saw Maurice Anderson...
166 passengers forced off plane at Boston airport after collision with de-icing truck
166 passengers forced off plane at Boston airport after collision with de-icing truck

Passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight leaving Boston’s Logan International Airport were forced to disembark Monday after the plane collided with a de-icer and damaged its wing, officials said. Flight 133 was carrying 166 passengers and crew as it prepared for takeoff to Portland, Oregon, officials said. Passengers said they felt the plane hit...
Watch: Bus security camera captures car going airborne in California
Watch: Bus security camera captures car going airborne in California

Dramatic video footage from the security camera of a city bus in Santa Ana, California, shows a car going airborne before it crashed into the second story of a dental office Sunday morning, KTTV reported. The video, obtained by KTTV from the Orange County Transportation Authority, shows a bus traveling through the I-5 underpass near 17th Street in...
With Pence in audience, Maryland pastor denounces vulgarity attributed to Trump
With Pence in audience, Maryland pastor denounces vulgarity attributed to Trump

During Sunday’s service attended by Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, a pastor at a predominantly black church in Maryland denounced racially charged comments that were allegedly made in reference to Haiti and African nations last week by President Donald Trump, WUSA reported Monday. Dr. Maurice Watson is pastor at the predominantly...
More Stories