African-American Men and Women of the Progressive Era

4 Key Figures

During the  Progressive Era, African-Americans faced 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 achieve equality by creating organizations that would help them lobby few anti-lynching legislation and achieve prosperity. Here are several African-American men and women who worked to change life for African-Americans during this time period. 

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W.E.B. Dubois

W.E.B. DuBois

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 William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois argued for immediate racial equality for African-Americans while working as a sociologist, historian, and activist. 

One of his famous quotes is “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”

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Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell
Public Domain

 Mary Church Terrell helped to establish the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896. Terrell's work as a social activist and helping women and children have resources to employment, education and adequate healthcare allow her to be remembered. 

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William Monroe Trotter

William Monroe Trotter
Public Domain

William Monroe Trotter was a journalist and socio-political agitator. Trotter played an important role in the early fight for civil rights for African-Americans.

Fellow writer and activist James Weldon Johnson once described Trotter as “an able man, zealous almost to the point of fanaticism, an implacable foe of every form and degree of race discrimination” that “lacked the capacity to weld his followers into a form that would give them any considerable group effectiveness.”

Trotter helped to establish the Niagara Movement with Du Bois. He was also the publisher of Boston Guardian. 

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Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

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 In 1884, Ida Wells-Barnett sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad after she was removed from the train after refusing to move to a segregated car. She sued on the grounds that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 banned discrimination based on race, creed, or color in theaters, hotels, transportation, and public facilities. Although Wells-Barnett won the case on the local circuit courts and was awarded $500, the railroad company appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Tennessee. In 1887, the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the lower court's ruling.

This was Well-Barnett's introduction into social activism and she did not stop there. She published articles and editorials in Free Speech. 

Well-Barnett published the anti-lynching pamphlet, A Red Record

The following year, Wells-Barnett worked with a number of women to organize the first African-American national organization-- the National Association of Colored Women. Through the NACW, Wells-Barnett continued to fight against lynching and other forms of racial injustice.

In 1900, Wells-Barnett publishes Mob Rule in New Orleans. The text tells the story of Robert Charles, an African-American man who fought police brutality in May of 1900.

Collaborating with W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter, Wells-Barnett helped increase membership of the Niagara Movement. Three years later, she participated in the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

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Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

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 Educator and social activist Booker T. Washington was responsible for establishing Tuskegee Institute and the Negro Business League