The Negro Sanhedrin was a short-lived organization established in 1924 with the purpose, according to its founder, Kelly Miller (1863–1939), of fostering cooperation and coordination between black organizations and forming one unified voice for black America. Miller perceived that black organizations often duplicated each others' efforts or worked at cross-purposes, offering the nation neither a clear picture of the problems of African Americans nor a single agenda for action.
Actually, Miller envisioned several organizations formed along the lines of the ancient Hebrew Sanhedrins: a greater Sanhedrin, which would function nationally to coordinate black political and social policy and be composed of representatives from the leading national black organizations, and lesser Sanhedrins, operating at the local level. Miller took care to distinguish the Sanhedrin, which would concern itself with "the immediate problems of the Negro in the United States," from W. E. B. Du Bois's Pan-African Conferences, which explored the conditions of blacks worldwide, and the Universal Negro Improvement Association of Marcus Garvey, which sought the emigration of American blacks to Africa.
Miller, a leading essayist, sociologist, and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University, used his influence among black moderates to attract representatives from sixty-three national black organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Equal Rights League, the Race Congress, the International Uplift League, and the Friends of Negro Freedom, to an initial meeting in Chicago the week of February 11, 1924. Miller also invited several leading citizens unaffiliated with black organizations. In all, 300 delegates attended. The main address was delivered by the mayor of Chicago, William E. Dever.
In the course of their week-long meeting, the delegates identified seven problems of black American life which required interracial cooperation to resolve: the need to improve public health among black Americans; the necessity for equal schools; the end of the exploitation of black labor; the protection of the black franchise; equal rights for women; strengthening the right of protest and public utterance; and the improvement of interracial relations.
The delegates also recommended several points of internal policy aimed at the internal improvement of the black community: the need to build a strong, independent business community; the creation of black fraternal and charitable organizations; the maintenance of a "less partisan" and "more dignified" black press; the establishment of relationships with blacks around the world; the encouragement and support of black youth; and the study and promotion of African and black American culture. Miller, who referred to the Negro Sanhedrin as "an influence rather than an organization," envisioned biennial meetings on the national level, but the Negro Sanhedrin never met again.
Bracey, John H., Jr., August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, eds. Black Nationalism in America. New York, 1970.
Miller, Kelly. The Negro Sanhedrin: A Call to Conference. Washington, D.C., 1923.
Wright, W. D. "The Thought and Leadership of Kelly Miller." Phylon 39 (June 1978): 180–192.
michael paller (1996)