The Niagara Movement's Powerful Fruit-100 Years of Protest

By Malveaux, Julianne | Black Issues in Higher Education, February 10, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Niagara Movement's Powerful Fruit-100 Years of Protest


Malveaux, Julianne, Black Issues in Higher Education


The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH) was founded 90 years ago on Sept. 9, 1915. It's founder, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, author of the scathing masterpiece, The Miseducation of the Negro (1933), was also the thunder of Negro History Week (1926), the forerunner to contemporary Black History Month celebrations. Each year, the association develops a theme for Black History Month. This year it has highlighted The Niagara Movement: Black Protest Reborn, 1905-2005.

The Niagara Movement lasted a decade, at best. At its heyday, it had fewer than 200 members. This small, almost exclusively male and poorly funded group managed to act as a thorn in the side of the accommodationist despot, Booker T. Washington, and to articulate a series of goals and principles that remain unrealized today. Washington was so profoundly threatened by the Niagara Movement that he sent spies to cover its meetings and encouraged a "blackout" of its coverage by the Black press. Still, most historians say the Niagara Movement created the legacy of the NAACP, the organization founded in 1909 to advance the civil rights cause.

This could not be a better year to celebrate Black protest, in a year when so many African Americans feel no need to protest. Ground down or worn out, too many seem to accept the unjust realities of our current situation as if there is no alternative. We need simply look back a century to remember the courage of other African Americans who had fewer resources and advantages. Too many of us have accepted the hype that race no longer matters, even as lawsuits are being filed against all kinds of folks--Macy's, Cracker Barrel, Planned Parenthood. To be sure, the merit of these lawsuits has yet to be determined, but racial bias in the workplace, the marketplace and the classroom has hardly disappeared. So why has protest?

The Niagara Movement was a protest for suffrage, equal enforcement of laws and "real education." How do we get these things? "By voting where we may vote; by persistent, unceasing agitation; by hammering at the truth; by sacrifice and work." Not much, it seems, has changed since the founding of the Niagara Movement. African Americans, for all our progress, still seek voting rights, equal enforcement of the law and real education. No Child Left Behind isn't going to do it.

Celebrating protest, beginning with the Niagara Movement, means celebrating those folks who refused to go along to get along, refused to smile and take the payola that Washington was offering. It means celebrating the Black Panther Party and its breakfast program created to feed Black children so they could learn. …

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