Men of Niagara – W. E. B. Dubois (1906)


(Above) – A photograph of the Niagara Group in 1906.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, African-American leaders were beginning to coalesce into a more powerful centralized movement, and W. E. B. Dubois was one of those leaders. He was a co-founder of the Niagara Movement, members of whom were gathered when they were denied admittance to hotels in Buffalo, NY. There were 29 people, both men and women, who all gathered at Niagara Falls (thus the movement’s name). (The members are in the pic above.)

In an earlier book (The Souls of Black Folk – 1903 – TBR), Dubois had taken a more forceful attitude to fighting racism than others had before, and despite his unpopular stance, drafted a “Declaration of Principles” which stated, in part, that African-Americans should no longer take an approach of accommodation, but one of more force but without being violent. (Others had taken a less disruptive approach before now.)

w_e_b__duboisDuBois was an intellectual who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895 (the first African-American to do such a major achievement), and taught at various colleges around the States. This Niagara Movement, although not long-lived, is believed to be part of the foundation of the NAACP when it was founded in 1909. (Huh. Didn’t know that.)

At the second meeting of the Niagara Movement, this one at Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, Dubois gave an address to the assembled group. In this address, he sets out the goals (as he sees them) for African-Americans in America.

It’s really a powerful speech to read so I can only imagine how it affected his audience, and covers rights ranging from voting (for both men and women), to the “removal of discrimination in public accommodation” which he called (with some restrain, I might add) “un-American, undemocratic, and silly”. He calls for every man and woman in America to be able to gather together with whoever s/he wants, and for the enforcement of laws that would protect against racial bias.

Dubois goes to ask for their children to be educated: “Either United States will destroy ignorance, or ignorance will destroy the United States…” Children should be educated “as intelligent beings should be” as other children are educated.

It’s a call for peaceful protest: “We do not believe in violence, neither in the despised violence of the raid nor the lauded violence of the soldier, not the barbarous of the mob…” and ends up with a call for action:

“The morning breaks over blood-stained hills. We must not falter, we may not shrink. Above are the everlasting stars.”

Hmm. Might be useful reading for our President-Elect, me thinks.

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