African American Women and the Niagara Movement, 1905-1909

Article excerpt

In 1905, between July 11 and July 15, twenty nine African American men met in Buffalo, New York to launch a new movement, the Niagara Movement. Spearheaded by W. E. B. DuBois, the Niagara Movement lasted just four years and became the precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also led by DuBois, in 1909. While no African American women were part of the original group of twenty nine that formed the Niagara Movement yet, in many ways Black women became an integral part of the movement. This article will present their story.

Black women were the gender capital of the Niagara Movement, though perhaps that was not the intention of the 29 men who came together to form this group. This article is divided into four sections in order to create the story of the women in the Niagara Movement: Mary Burnett Talbert, Carrie W. Clifford, Gertrude Morgan and the Membership Lists.

MARY BURNETT TALBERT

The first meeting of the Niagara Movement opened on July 11, 1905 at the house of Mary Burnett and W.M Talbert. A graduate of Oberlin College, Mary Talbert became one of "the most widely known activist[s] in Buffalo" by the turn of the century. (2) (photo #1) Talbert was an active participant in many different organizations in Buffalo including those created within and outside of the church. In her lifetime, she held such high positions as the President of the Buffalo Phyllis Wheatly Club in 1899, President of the National Association of Colored Women in 1916, and led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's anti-lynching crusade in 1922 as the National Director of the Anti-Lynching Committee and became the first woman to speak before the Norwegian House of Parliament in 1920. As a result of her many years of hard work in support of the improvement of the lives of African Americans, and her work with the Anti-Lynching campaign, Talbert became the first woman to receive the highest award given by the NAACP, the Spingarn Medal in 1922. (3)

Mary Talbert was also an acquaintance of Booker T. Washington, as well as DuBois. Washington sought Talbert's assistance in keeping him informed of the actions of the participants in the Niagara Movement. In a letter dated July 8, 1905, Washington wrote to his wife Margaret asking her to, "write to Mrs. Talbert to keep you closely informed about proceedings and names of people connected with the Buffalo meeting next week". (4) Expressing her usefulness as an informant in another letter dated the same day, Washington wrote, "Tell Crosby look after Buffalo meeting sharply. It is to be held next week. Inside data can be gotten from Talbert ..." (5)

Washington seemed to have been aware that the meeting was to be held at the Talbert's residence from a latter correspondence by Clifford H. Plummer to Washington. In the letter he states, "My dear Mr. Washington: I arrived home this morning and called you up first thing ... the report was not true; in fact there really was no conference in Buffalo where delegates were in attendance ... I was located near 521 Michigan Avenue from Wednesday morning until Friday and I can state positively that none of the men named in the report were present except DuBois." (6) It is not certain as to which report this was, however, 521 Michigan Avenue was the Talbert's address. The meeting began at their residence on July 11th and the next day moved to the Erie Hotel on the Canadian side of the Falls. (photo #2) Washington's spy arrived at the residence a day late.

The fact that the Niagara Movement meeting began at the Talbert's residence on July 11, 1905 is corroborated by other contemporary sources. A letter dated June 13, 1905 written by DuBois to Mr. W.M. Talbert, Mary Talbert's husband informs him of the proposed meeting. DuBois writes to him about finding accommodation for the gentleman who would be coming to Buffalo for the meeting. The letter has the address, 521, Michigan Avenue at the top. …