Editor's Pick

30 June, 2024

ON 11 JULY 1905, 29 leading Black intellectuals gathered at the Erie Beach Hotel—located near Niagara Falls, in the Canadian province of Ontario—for a meeting meant to unite civil-rights activists from across the United States. The meeting was organised by WEB Du Bois, a professor of history and economics at Atlanta University, and William Monroe Trotter, the editor of the Boston Guardian.

Du Bois and Trotter opposed the accommodationist policy of Booker T Washington, a reformist and educationist who had emerged as the foremost spokesperson for Black Americans in the post-Reconstruction era. On 18 September 1895, even as the states of the former Confederacy began repealing the democratisation measures enacted after the Civil War, Washington had made a speech in Atlanta, accepting segregation in exchange for policies that improved the economic conditions of all Americans. Du Bois criticised Washington for accepting “the alleged inferiority of the Negro races” and began working to create an organisation that would reject the “Atlanta Compromise” and settle for nothing less than full civil rights.

The delegates at the conference passed a resolution demanding, among other things, universal male suffrage, civil liberties, prohibitions on racial discrimination, free and compulsory school education, as well as an end to the twin practices of unions barring Black members and employers using them as scab labour. They set up the Niagara Movement, which established thirty local chapters and held similar meetings every year at symbolic locations such as Harper’s Ferry, where John Brown had led a slave uprising in 1859, and Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where abolitionists used to hold meetings during the 1830s. (Some of the eight hundred attendees at the 1907 meeting in Boston can be seen above.) After the 1908 race riots in Springfield, Illinois, several members of the organisation were instrumental in setting up the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.