The Niagara Movement

In the post-Reconstruction United States, black Americans struggled against increasing resistance on the part of whites to accept them as equal citizens. Although slavery had been abolished, and the
 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been passed in 1868, guaranteeing all born or naturalized residents of the U.S. equal protection under the law, lived experience fell far short of the letter of the law. In myriad ways, discrimination against and oppression of black citizens continued to worsen throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Institutionalized by the so-called Jim Crow laws, blacks in the U.S. struggled to actualize the rights granted to them under the Constitution.

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois

Ideas about how to achieve full civil rights for black Americans varied. The ideological opposite poles of the debate are now symbolized by the names of these two men. Booker T. Washington was a former slave who advocated a gradual approach to accomplishing equal rights. He believed that blacks would slowly attain their rights as they proved to be useful and productive citizens. To that end, he promoted vocational training and post-secondary education as means of advancement, founding the Tuskegee Institute in 1881. W.E.B. Du Bois, born and raised in New England after the Civil War, disagreed with Washington’s approach and fought for total and immediate – some called it radical – enforcement of full civil rights. Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903, describing within it the uniqueness of black experiences and struggles in the U.S.

The Niagara Movement, 1905-1910
 In July 1905, Du Bois and twenty-eight others of like mind gathered in Canada – at Niagara Falls – to establish the Niagara Movement to promote and advocate for Du Bois’s program of rapid change. It spread quickly, held annual meetings, and worked for social change. From the outset, however, the movement was beset by both internal and external problems: lack of funds, personal clashes, and ideological disagreements rocked the movement from within, while continued oppression by whites and the opposition of Booker T. Washington and his followers pressured it from without. As a result of these tensions, the Niagara Movement was disbanded in 1910. Its work was continued by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a less radical organization, which was founded by Du Bois and others in 1909.

For more information on the Niagara Movement and W.E.B. Du Bois, go to 
Du Bois Central: Niagara Movement, part of the main Du Bois online portal at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

To view the complete interview with Dr. Shabazz, along with other multimedia resources, click here.

Above: Advertisement card for the 1906 Niagara Movement Annual Meeting at Harper's Ferry, WV.
Above: Dr. Amilcar Shabazz on the context and background of W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagara Movement.
Above: Dr. Amilcar Shabazz on the responses of W.E.B. Du Bois and Brooker T. Washington to legal segregation during the era of Jim Crow.
Above: Dr. Amilcar Shabazz discusses John Hope, educator and founding member of the Niagara Movement, whose theories on education opposed those of Booker T. Washington and his followers.