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National Negro Congress

National Negro Congress


The National Negro Congress (NNC) emerged from the Howard University Conference on the status of the Negro held in May 1935 in Washington, D.C. The organization formally got under way in 1936, held meetings at irregular intervals, and was composed predominantly of organizations and individuals active in the African-American community. For Ralph Bunche and others, the National Negro Congress held the promise of an interclass alliance including labor, clerics, entrepreneurs, elected officials, and others. The NNC's mission included protest against Jim Crow and organizing for the social, political, and economic advancement of African Americans.

Sponsors of the NNC included Charles H. Houston of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Alain Locke and Ralph Bunche of Howard University, Lester Granger of the National Urban League, John P. Davis of the Joint Committee on National Recovery, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (who served as the organization's first president), and James Ford of the Communist Party.

The participation of the Communist Party caused controversy. From the beginning, the party played a prominent role within the NNC and grew after the 1937 convention. Its point of view was that the NNC was a united front of African Americans, meaning that despite class and ideological differences blacks should unite for common goals. However, by 1938 some noncommunists, such as Bunche, were troubled by the Communist Party's influence and left the NNC.

Critics of the NNC, ultimately including Randolph, were of the opinion that the organization was a front for the party and that it refused to take positions at variance with those of the Communists. These criticisms became sharper after the Nazi-Soviet Pact was concluded in August 1939, which led to the German invasion of Poland and the onset of World War II.

Many Communists were hesitant to criticize the pact, and NNC critics (for example, Randolph) began to drift away from the organization. Those who refused to leave the NNC felt that disputes over the pact were examples of the kind of ideological differences that should be submerged in the interest of a united front for the betterment of African Americans.

Despite these internecine conflicts, during its brief history the NNC rivaled the NAACP as a tribune for African Americans. It had fifty branch councils in nineteen states, published a number of communications organs, and sponsored numerous conferences.

In Harlem, where the NNC was particularly strong, it enjoyed the participation of the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and the Harvard-educated Communist lawyer Benjamin J. Davis, and it spearheaded campaigns to secure jobs for blacks in mass transit. Across the nation the NNC could be found boycotting department stores that engaged in racial discrimination, protesting police brutality, and demanding federal antilynching legislation and investigation of the Ku Klux Klan and Black Legion. The NNC vigorously protested the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and they perceived as laggard the policies of the U.S. State Department in opposing this action.

In a number of communities, the NNC worked closely with NAACP branches, affiliates of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, and the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. After the United States entered World War II in 1941, this kind of collaboration increased. Since the United States was allied with the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945, the role of Communists within the NNC was not seen by many noncommunists as a bar to cooperation and the NNC experienced some growth during this period after the difficulties of 1939.

Between 1942 and 1945 the NNC played a leading role in the formation of the Negro Labor Victory Committee (NLVC), which in Harlem and elsewhere mobilized African Americans against fascism abroad and Jim Crow at home.

Nevertheless, neither the NNC nor the NLVC was able to survive the end of the war and the onset of the Cold War and Red Scare. By 1946 it was common for the NNC to be referred to as a communist front and a tool of Moscow. The transformation of the Soviet Union from an ally to an enemy of the United States was a leading factor in this changed perception, and in the NNC's eventual demise. Between 1946 and 1947 the NNC was subsumed by the Civil Rights Congress, another organization closely related to the Communist Party but one whose mission, fighting political and racist repression, was broader and less exclusively focused on African-American affairs.

See also Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Bunche, Ralph; Civil Rights Congress; Communist Party of the United States; Ford, James W.; Jim Crow; Locke, Alain Leroy; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); National Urban League; Randolph, Asa Philip

Bibliography

Horne, Gerald. Communist Front? The Civil Rights Congress, 19461956. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1988.

Hughes, Cicero Alvin. "Toward a Black United Front: The National Negro Congress Movement." Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 1982.

Streater, John Baxter. "The National Negro Congress, 19361947." Ph.D. diss., University of Cincinnati, 1981.

gerald horne (1996)

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