"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and                       what will take place later."   Rev. 1:19  

African-American History

Excerpt from
Deidre Williams, "NAACP Turns 100 Today,"
published in The Buffalo News, February 12, 2009, B1

In 1905, 32 prominent African-American men gathered for a reception at the home of William and Mary B. Talbert members of Michigan Street Baptist Church - once a stop on the Underground Railroad. The men - who had financial backing from William Talbert - wanted equal rights for black men. And they wanted it immediately.

'We are men. We want to be treated as men. And we shall win," scholar and activist W. E. B. Dubois was quoted as saying. Little did the Talberts know that the reception they hosted in their home would give birth to one of the country's leading civil rights organizations.

The following day, the group convened officially for the first time as the Niagara Movement in the Fort Erie (Ont.) Hotel, according to Bishop William Henderson, historian and tour guide for Michigan Street Baptist Church.

Four years later, the group would form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which celebrates its centennial today.

A Look Into Our Past...
Beginning in the early nineteenth century, a movement called the Underground Railroad helped enslaved people flee the South.
Operating without formal organization, participants in the Underground Railroad included both white and black abolitionists, enslaved African Americans, American Indians, and members of such religious groups as the Quakers, Methodists, and Baptists.

Brutal Challenges to the System
Most African Americans resisted enslavement. They used techniques such as work slow-downs, sabotage, sickness, self-mutilation, or the destruction of property. Whenever possible, individuals attempted to liberate themselves by running away. Some runaways—called maroons—created free communities, such as those that existed in Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp or in the Florida Everglades among the Seminole Indians. Beginning in the seventeenth century, African Americans repeatedly banded together in attempts to overthrow the institution of slavery. Large-scale uprisings included Gabriel's Rebellion, which occurred near Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. The revolt's leader, Gabriel Prosser, reportedly drew inspiration from the Haitian Revolution. The best-known rebellion occurred in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. Led by enslaved preacher Nat Turner, some seventy followers destroyed property and murdered more than fifty white men, women, and children within a twenty-four hour period. Following Turner's rebellion many Virginia slave holders reported insubordinate behavior by their slaves. In retaliation vigilantes murdered innocent blacks. The uprising succeeded in terrorizing white southerners, and as a direct result, southern lawmakers enacted stricter regulations designed to tightly control the activities of enslaved and free African Americans.

The Fugitive Slave Act
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 permitted the recapture and extradition of escaped slaves with the assistance of federal marshals. To combat the perceived success of the Underground Railroad, one of the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 levied fines and prison sentences on individuals who helped runaways. The spectacle of African Americans reenslaved on the slightest pretext brought the reality of slavery forcibly into northern life. Unscrupulous traders also kidnapped free African Americans during this period and sold them south into slavery. The Fugitive Slave Law forced runaways to flee to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and even Europe.

Methods of Escape
Slaves passed information about methods of escape by word-of-mouth, in stories, and through songs. No actual trains existed on the Underground Railroad, but guides were called conductors and the hiding places that they used, depots or stations. Runaways escaped to the North along a loosely connected series of routes that stretched through the southern border states. Guided north by the stars and sometimes singing traditional songs like "Follow the Drinking Gourd," most runaways travelled at night on foot and took advantage of the natural protections offered by swamps, bayous, forests, and waterways. Others who escaped from the South travelled into the western territories, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Some runaways took refuge in cities such as Baltimore and New Orleans and blended into the free black population.

Adjusting to Freedom
Once free, former slaves remade their lives. Many worked hard to raise money to purchase family members still in slavery or to help further their escape. While savoring new experiences, they discovered the extent to which bigotry prevailed in northern society. Obstacles existed for them to find work and to secure satisfactory housing. Few, however, longed for their old lives. "Through the mercy of God," one former slave relished, "he can hold up his hands and pronounce the sentence, 'I am a Freeman!'" During the Civil War many African Americans joined the Federal forces to fight for slavery's destruction.

Free Blacks
Free African Americans totalled six percent of the South's population in 1860. Free blacks often lived in cities such as Charleston, South Carolina; Natchez, Mississippi; New Orleans, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; or Baltimore, Maryland, where they found better opportunities for employment and autonomy from whites. Despite the limitations imposed by the racist society that surrounded them, these free African Americans established their own churches, schools, and charitable organizations.

The Niagara Movement
July 14, 1905 marks the founding of the Niagara Movement. This episode of America was the first significant black organized protest movement of the twentieth century. It also represented the attempt of a small yet articulate group of radicals to challenge the then dominant ideals of Booker T. Washington. At the turn of the century there were divisions in African-American political life: those who believed in accommodation, led by Booker T. Washington, and the more militant group, led by W.E.B. Du Bois and William M. Trotter.

In 1904, a closed-door meeting at Carnegie hall developed the Committee of Twelve for the Advancement of the Interest of the Negro Race, but it fell apart due to infighting. In February 1905, Du Bois and Trotter put together an all black group that included Frederick L. McGhee and C.E. Bentley. They invited 59 well know anti-Washington 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 men met and formed a group they called the Niagara Movement. The name came because of the location and the “mighty current” of protest they wished to unleash.

Du Bois was named general secretary and the group split into various committees. The founders agreed to divide the work at hand among state chapters. At the end of the first year, the organizations had only 170 members and were poorly funded. Nevertheless they pursued their activities, distributing pamphlets, lobbying against Jim Crow, and sending circulars and protest letters to President Theodore Roosevelt after the Brownsville Incident in 1906.

That summer the Niagara Movement held their second conference at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Despite its impressive beginning, the Niagara Movement did not enjoy a long life. Washington’s determined opposition
from the beginning kept any white empathy from assisting them in anyway. Even in its decline, the movement left a lasting legacy. This legacy went on to the foundation of another legacy that still goes strong today the NAACP.

WEB DuBois


  There is no continent more blessed with striking beauty and diversity than the African Motherland. And it was from this physical and genetic diversity that allowed Africans to parent the rest of humanity. Indigenous Africa is testimony to the full spectrum, of skin tones, hair textures, rich religious and cultural practices.