Did You Know the Niagara Movement Began on This Day?

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This Day In History: July 11th

In the wake of failed Reconstruction attempts and Jim Crow tactics, prominent African-American intellectuals rallied together to combat the issue with the establishment of the Niagara Movement. W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter led a group of more than 20 men to Niagara Falls with the goal of discussing advancement and reform for the African-American community. 

In 1905, Du Bois and Trotter issued a call to men in opposition to Booker T. Washington’s approach to advancement. Washington argued that black people should advance themselves through skills such as farming and carpentry instead of political means. Du Bois disagreed with the sentiments and was able to assemble a group of 29 men from 14 states to convene. 

The men first met in Buffalo, New York before traveling across the border to Canada and holding the meeting at the Erie Beach Hotel near Niagara Falls. It was a multi-day affair, starting from July 11th to the 14th. During the initial meeting, the men adopted a constitution, created by-laws and drafted the “Declaration of Principles.” 

Their platform encouraged freedom of speech and press, voting rights and the removal of race-based discrimination. The Niagara Movement saw a spike in membership in 1906 and grew to become an organization with 170 members in 34 states. With growing membership numbers, the group held a public meeting at Harpers Ferry. The spot was strategically chosen since it is the location of John Brown’s 1859 abolitionist raid

Although the Niagara Movement began with good intentions and experienced an increase in members, the organization did not have much national momentum to see the desired change. Soon internal conflict became an issue as well, with Du Bois and Trotter in disagreement over the admittance of women into the organization. The group was also limited financially and by 1908, Trotter left the movement to start his own organization, the Negro-American Political League.

The movement began to dwindle and Du Bois joined forces with both black and white activists to lobby for change. He urged for a new civil rights organization which resulted in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The Niagara Movement was unlike any other group of its time and served as the predecessor to one of the most influential groups supporting the black community. 

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