...instead of meeting in secret, we met openly...and had in significance if not in numbers one of the greatest meetings that American Negroes ever held.
...And we talked some of the plainest English that had been given voice to by black men in America.
—W. E. B. Du Bois
The Niagara Movement—the first, collective civil rights movement of the 20th century—took shape in July 1905 when W. E. B. Du Bois gathered an elite group of African Americans to challenge the accommodation policies of Booker T. Washington.
In July of 1905, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Monroe Trotter, John Hope, and twenty-six other prominent African Americans, met at the home of Mary B. Talbert, a prominent member of the Michigan Street Baptist Church of Buffalo, New York to set a course for the advancement of the race and to challenge the ideological platform of racial accommodation set forth by Booker T. Washington, long revered as the most influential and formidable African American leader. Read an article (PDF, 615KB) from the Buffalo Enquirer describing this meeting.
After a meeting at Talbert's home, Du Bois organized the first Niagara Movement meeting across the Niagara River in Fort Ontario, Canada. It was at this meeting that Du Bois authored a Declaration of Principles, the framework that helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The meeting was held ten years following the controversial Atlanta Exposition Address in which Washington sought to assuage fears among White Americans about aspirations for social or political equality among persons of African descent. The singular most powerful voice for Black America, Washington had just four years prior to the Niagara Movement (1901) been invited to the Roosevelt White House, a clear signal of his stature.
The significance of the Niagara Movement can be measured in many ways:
- It represents the first civil rights organization of the twentieth century by and among persons of African descent;
- Its Declaration of Principles is a clearly articulated platform wherein political expediency is informed by humanistic ideals;
- It marks a radical shift from the single-minded approach of leadership of Booker T. Washington to a group of well-educated talented African American professionals, “The Talented Tenth” and;
- Its leaders advocated a shift from agricultural and industrial training for persons of African descent to that of liberal learning. Although the Niagara Movement was short-lived, it lasted for only five years, the leadership and founding principles became the cornerstone of the newly formed NAACP, a multi-racial civil rights organization that has remained active to this day.