African-American Organizations of the Progressive Era

Despite constant reform made in American society during the Progressive Era, African-Americans were faced with severe forms of racism and discrimination. Segregation in public places, lynching, being barred from the political process, limited healthcare, education and housing options left African-Americans disenfranchised from American Society.

Despite the presence of Jim Crow Era laws and politics, African-Americans attempted to reach achieve equality by creating organizations that would help them lobby few anti-lynching legislation and achieve prosperity.

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National Association of Colored Women (NACW)

Women at Atlanta University. Library of Congress

The National Association of Colored Women was established in July of 1896. African-American writer and suffragette Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin believed that the best way to respond to racist and sexist attacks in the media was through social-political activism. Arguing that developing positive images of African-American womanhood was important to countering racist attacks, Ruffin said, "Too long have we been silent under unjust and unholy charges; we cannot expect to have them removed until we disprove them through ourselves."

Working with women such as Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Frances Watkins Harper and Lugenia Burns Hope, Ruffin helped several African-American women’s clubs merge. These clubs included the National League of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro-American Women. Their formation established the first African-American national organization.

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National Negro Business League

National Negro Business League Executive Committee

Library of Congress/Getty Images

Booker T. Washington established the National Negro Business League in Boston in 1900 with the help of Andrew Carnegie.  The purpose of the organization was to “promote the commercial and financial development of the Negro.” Washington established the group because he believed that the key to ending racism in the United States was through economic development and for African-Americans to become upwardly mobile.

He believed that once African-Americans had achieved economic independence, they would be able to petition successfully for voting rights and an end to segregation.

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The Niagara Movement

Niagara Movement delegates, Boston, Mass., 1907

rceW. E. B. Du Bois Papers/Wikimedia Commons 

In 1905, scholar and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois teamed up journalist William Monroe Trotter. The men brought together more than 50 African-American men who were in opposition to Booker T. Washington's philosophy of accommodation. Both Du Bois and Trotter desired a more militant approach to fighting inequality.

The first meeting was held on the Canada side of Niagara Falls. Almost thirty African-American business owners, teachers and other professionals came together to establish the Niagara Movement.

The Niagara Movement was the first organization which petitioned aggressively for African-American civil rights. Using the newspaper, Voice of the Negro, Du Bois and Trotter disseminated news throughout the country. The Niagara Movement also led to the formation of the NAACP.

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W.E.B. DuBois / Mary White Ovington

David/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established in 1909 by Mary White Ovington, Ida B. Wells, and W.E.B. Du Bois. The mission of the organization was to create social equality. Since its founding, the organization has worked to end racial injustice in American society.

With more than 500,000 members, the NAACP works locally and nationally to “to “ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality for all, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

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The National Urban League

The National Urban League (NUL) was founded in 1910. It is a civil-rights organization whose mission was “to enable African-Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.”

In 1911, three organizations—the Committee for the Improvement of Industrial Conditions Among Negroes in New York, the National League for the Protection of Colored Women and the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes—merged to form the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes.

In 1920, the organization would be renamed National Urban League.

The purpose of the NUL was to help African-Americans participating in the Great Migration to find employment, housing and other resources once they’d reached urban environments.

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Lewis, Femi. "African-American Organizations of the Progressive Era." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). African-American Organizations of the Progressive Era. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "African-American Organizations of the Progressive Era." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).