The Niagara Movement of 1905: A Look Back to a Century Ago

By Wolf, Kyle D. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 2008 | Go to article overview

The Niagara Movement of 1905: A Look Back to a Century Ago


Wolf, Kyle D., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


  "Believe in life! Always human beings will live and progress
  to greater, broader, and fuller life."- W. E. B. Du Bois

Over a century ago in February 1905, thirty-two African Americans met secretly in the Buffalo home of Mary B. Talbert to discuss the resolutions that would become the Niagara Movement. This group invited fifty-nine selected "African American businessmen to a meeting that summer in western New York. On July 11 thru 14, 1905 on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, twenty-nine met and formed a group called the Niagara Movement" ("Founders of the Niagara Movement at Niagara Falls."). The name "Niagara Movement" allegedly came from the location of the meeting, along with the '"mighty current' of protest they wished to unleash." But before looking at the Movement, we need to take a closer look at some of the founding members.

W. E. B. Du Bois is arguably the most well-known and respected founding member of the Niagara Movement. Du Bois was born in Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868. He completed high school and then went to Fisk University, where, in 1888, he received a B.A. degree. Du Bois went on to go to Harvard where he obtained his M.A. and his Ph. D. ("Dubois Obituary"). Du Bois was the first African American to earn a Ph. D. at Harvard (Meier, and Franklin, 65). Du Bois used his training in social sciences and published the first in-depth case study of a black community in the United States, in The Philadelphia Negro, in 1899. When dealing with civil rights for African Americans, Du Bois believed in a college-educated "Talented Tenth." This Talented Tenth were going to be the educated African Americans who would lead the rest of the African Americans to equality by being committed to the "welfare of the black masses." This Talented Tenth would be the leadership that would elevate the "blacks economically and culturally." This will play in later to the conflict between Du Bois and the largest black figure of this time, Booker T. Washington. [Du Bois was also a noted propagandist]. Since Du Bois was the leading intellectual African American at this time, it seems appropriate that this would be one of his roles. Du Bois even wrote in his autobiographical book, Dusk of Dawn, that it was his "role as a master of propaganda" (Meier and Franklin, 63-66).

Du Bois also had a personal platform, which he circulated, that would heavily influence the Niagara Movement's platform that will be discussed later on. Du Bois' personal platform was as follows:

  Full political rights on the same terms as other Americans;
  higher education of selected Negro youth; industrial education
  for the masses; common school training for every Negro child;
  a stoppage to the campaign of self-depreciation; a careful study
  of the real conditions of the Negro; a national Negro periodical;
  the raising of a defense fund; a judicious fight in the courts
  for civil rights. (Meier and Franklin, 67)

It is apparent in this platform that Du Bois was an intellectual, who valued an education and the advancement of African Americans, unlike Booker T. Washington who was considered to be a "compromiser."

"The Niagara Movement, whose tiny membership was drawn chiefly from the ranks of northern college-educated professional men, held annual meetings for the next five years. The chief function of these gatherings was to issue declarations of protest to white America" (Meier and Franklin, 68). We can see from this statement that Du Bois' feelings about educated African Americans leading the way to true freedom was incorporated into the Niagara Movement. It is undeniable that Du Bois was the most influential member of the Niagara Movement.

Three other important members of the Niagara Movement were; Freeman Murray, Monroe Trotter, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Murray moved from his Ohio home to Washington D.C. to take a federal job in the Surgeon General's office after he passed the first civil service exam that was ever administered by the United States.

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