On October 20, 1942—during World War II—a group of southern black leaders convened in Durham, North Carolina, to address the problem of increasing racial tension in the South. The convention, called the Southern Conference on Race Relations, was organized at the suggestion of Jessie Ames, a white moderate and an active member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC). Ames, fearing that the voices of white and black southern moderates were being drowned out by more radical blacks and white supremacists, urged Gordon Blaine Hancock, a black sociologist and a moderate on racial issues, to convene the meeting. Ames expressed her hope that the black leaders would propose a "New Charter of Race Relations" for the South that would win the approval and support of white moderates, thereby restoring the role of the increasingly weak CIC and salvaging the possibility of interracial cooperation.
After some disagreement among the organizers (a group of black Virginians) over whether to include northern leaders, Hancock and the others decided to limit the conference to southern blacks. Of the eighty southern black leaders invited to attend the Durham conference, fifty-two accepted. Many of the attendees, including Charles Spurgeon Johnson of Fisk University, Benjamin E. Mays of Morehouse College, and Rufus E. Clement of Atlanta University, were former members of the CIC who had become disenchanted with the hesitant attitude of southern white moderates. In addition to Hancock, who served as the director of the conference, two other blacks from Virginia, Luther Porter Jackson and P. B. Young, the owner and editor of the Norfolk Journal and Guide, assumed leadership positions.
On December 15, 1942, the conference issued the Durham Manifesto, a statement outlining the leaders' demands for improving the position of African Americans in the South. In this statement of purpose, the delegates voiced their fundamental opposition to segregation but avoided a frontal attack on such issues as the desegregation of schools and public accommodations, which might appear to white southerners as calls for social equality. Instead the leaders expressed their belief that it was more important for the conference to address the "current problems of racial discrimination and neglect." Among the leaders' demands were calls for equal pay and opportunities for blacks in industry, the abolition of poll taxes and white primaries, the protection of civil rights, and a federal antilynching law. The leaders also implored white moderates to take a more active role in helping blacks combat racial discrimination in the South.
White moderates responded by organizing their own conference to address the black leaders' demands, and in June 1943 the two groups met at a collaborative conference in Richmond, Virginia, where they agreed to disband the CIC and replace it with the new Southern Regional Council. Many of the white leaders, however, objected to the Durham statement as too aggressive. When the conference finally drafted a common platform, it, like the Durham Manifesto, continued to avoid a direct confrontation on the issue of segregation. Although the Durham Manifesto failed to receive the full support of white moderates, it marked a major step forward in articulating an antisegregationist stance by southern black moderates.
See also Hancock, Gordon Blaine
Gavins, Raymond. The Perils and Prospects of Southern Black Leadership: Gordon Blaine Hancock, 1884–1970. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1977.
Logan, Rayford Whittingham, ed. What the Negro Wants. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944.
louise p. maxwell (1996)