Niagara's Declaration of Principles
Niagara's Declaration of Principles
Date: July 1905
Source: "Niagara's Declaration of Principles." Niagara Movement, July 1905.
About the Author: When first published in 1905, the Declaration of Principles was attributed to the Niagara Movement, a new organization committed to obtaining civil, legal, and social rights for African-Americans. Although they were not personally credited, it was clear that the new general secretary, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the new chairman of the Press and Public Opinion Committee, William Monroe Trotter, co-authored the Declaration. Historical research into the letters and documents of the Niagara Movement's members confirm this assumption. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868–1963) and Monroe Trotter (1872–1934), as Trotter was known, were both African-Americans from Massachusetts. Du Bois received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1895, the same year that Trotter earned his bachelor's degree there. Du Bois became a scholar specializing in the history, economics, and sociology of black Americans, and in 1901 Trotter founded the Guardian, an influential Black weekly newspaper published in Boston. Both Du Bois and Trotter were prolific writers as well as controversial activists. Trotter was seen as the more radical of the two, mainly due to the vitriolic editorials he wrote for the Guardian, which he edited until his death in 1934. Du Bois was one of the founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909 and served as the editor of its magazine, The Crisis, from 1910 to 1934. Du Bois was also the author of many important books, including The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Darkwater (1920), Black Reconstruction in America (1935), and Dusk of Dawn (1940). In 1958, Du Bois emigrated to Ghana, where he died in 1963.
The Niagara Movement was the first African-American organization to demand equality in all spheres of contemporaneous life. Its Declaration of Principles was drawn up at the organization's first conference, which took place in July 1905 at the Erie Beach Hotel in Fort Erie, Ontario, a Canadian resort area across the falls from Buffalo, New York. The Declaration was notable not only for being the first collective black claim to equal rights, but for its explicit, controversial, and detailed description of the different areas of concern to black Americans. Its demand for social equality openly defied current Jim Crow laws, and its language, which spoke of protest, oppression, and agitation, was bold, if not radical.
The Declaration was written in pointed contrast to the policies and demeanor advocated by Booker T. Washington and his followers at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. As the era's leading black spokesman, Washington's political and social influence was enormous. The Tuskegee Institute was well-funded by white philanthropists that approved of Washington's gradual, non-threatening programs for social change, as exemplified by the famous speech Washington gave in 1895, known as the Atlanta Compromise. The Niagara Movement deliberately opposed the Atlanta Compromise and the Tuskegee Machine (as Du Bois called Washington's organization) in addition to white racism.
Progress: The members of the conference, known as the Niagara Movement, assembled in annual meeting at Buffalo, July 11th, 12th and 13th, 1905, congratulate the Negro-Americans on certain undoubted evidences of progress in the last decade, particularly the increase of intelligence, the buying of property, the checking of crime, the uplift in home life, the advance in literature and art, and the demonstration of constructive and executive ability in the conduct of great religious, economic and educational institutions.
Suffrage: At the same time, we believe that this class of American citizens should protest emphatically and continually against the curtailment of their political rights. We believe in manhood suffrage; we believe that no man is so good, intelligent or wealthy as to be entrusted wholly with the welfare of his neighbor.
Civil Liberty: We believe also in protest against the curtailment of our civil rights. All American citizens have the right to equal treatment in places of public entertainment according to their behavior and deserts.
Economic Opportunity: We especially complain against the denial of equal opportunities to us in economic life; in the rural districts of the South this amounts to peonage and virtual slavery; all over the South it tends to crush labor and small business enterprises; and everywhere American prejudice, helped often by iniquitous laws, is making it more difficult for Negro-Americans to earn a decent living.
Education: Common school education should be free to all American children and compulsory. High school training should be adequately provided for all, and college training should be the monopoly of no class or race in any section of our common country. We believe that, in defense of our own institutions, the United States should aid common school education, particularly in the South, and we especially recommend concerted agitation to this end. We urge an increase in public high school facilities in the South, where the Negro-Americans are almost wholly without such provisions. We favor well-equipped trade and technical schools for the training of artisans, and the need of adequate and liberal endowment for a few institutions of higher education must be patent to sincere well-wishers of the race.
Courts: We demand upright judges in courts, juries selected without discrimination on account of color and the same measure of punishment and the same efforts at reformation for black as for white offenders. We need orphanages and farm schools for dependent children, juvenile reformatories for delinquents, and the abolition of the dehumanizing convict-lease system.
Public Opinion: We note with alarm the evident retrogression in this land of sound public opinion on the subject of manhood rights, republican government and human brotherhood, and we pray God that this nation will not degenerate into a mob of boasters and oppressors, but rather will return to the faith of the fathers, that all men were created free and equal, with certain unalienable rights.
Health: We plead for health—for an opportunity to live in decent houses and localities, for a chance to rear our children in physical and moral cleanliness.
Employers and Labor Unions: We hold up for public execration the conduct of two opposite classes of men: The practice among employers of importing ignorant Negro-American laborers in emergencies, and then affording them neither protection nor permanent employment; and the practice of labor unions in proscribing and boycotting and oppressing thousands of their fellow-toilers, simply because they are black. These methods have accentuated and will accentuate the war of labor and capital, and they are disgraceful to both sides.
Protest: We refuse to allow the impression to remain that the Negro-American assents to inferiority, is submissive under oppression and apologetic before insults. Through helplessness we may submit, but the voice of protest of ten million Americans must never cease to assail the ears of their fellows, so long as America is unjust.
Color-Line: Any discrimination based simply on race or color is barbarous, we care not how hallowed it be by custom, expediency or prejudice. Differences made on account of ignorance, immorality, or disease are legitimate methods of fighting evil, and against them we have no word of protest; but discriminations based simply and solely on physical peculiarities, place of birth, color of skin, are relics of that unreasoning human savagery of which the world is and ought to be thoroughly ashamed.
"Jim Crow" Cars: We protest against the "Jim Crow" car, since its effect is and must be to make us pay first-class fare for third-class accommodations, render us open to insults and discomfort and to crucify wantonly our manhood, womanhood and self-respect.
Soldiers: We regret that this nation has never seen fit adequately to reward the black soldiers who, in its five wars, have defended their country with their blood, and yet have been systematically denied the promotions which their abilities deserve. And we regard as unjust, the exclusion of black boys from the military and naval training schools.
War Amendments: We urge upon Congress the enactment of appropriate legislation for securing the proper enforcement of those articles of freedom, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments of the Constitution of the United States.
Oppression: We repudiate the monstrous doctrine that the oppressor should be the sole authority as to the rights of the oppressed. The Negro race in America stolen, ravished and degraded, struggling up through difficulties and oppression, needs sympathy and receives criticism; needs help and is given hindrance, needs protection and is given mob-violence, needs justice and is given charity, needs leadership and is given cowardice and apology, needs bread and is given a stone. This nation will never stand justified before God until these things are changed.
The Church: Especially are we surprised and astonished at the recent attitude of the church of Christ—of an increase of a desire to bow to racial prejudice, to narrow the bounds of human brotherhood, and to segregate black men to some outer sanctuary. This is wrong, unchristian and disgraceful to the twentieth century civilization.
Agitation: Of the above grievances we do not hesitate to complain, and to complain loudly and insistently. To ignore, overlook, or apologize for these wrongs is to prove ourselves unworthy of freedom. Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty, and toward this goal the Niagara Movement has started and asks the cooperation of all men of all races.
Help: At the same time we want to acknowledge with deep thankfulness the help of our fellowmen from the Abolitionist down to those who today still stand for equal opportunity and who have given and still give of their wealth and of their poverty for our advancement.
Duties: And while we are demanding, and ought to demand, and will continue to demand the rights enumerated above, God forbid that we should ever forget to urge corresponding duties upon our people:
The duty to vote.
The duty to respect the rights of others.
The duty to work.
The duty to obey the laws.
The duty to be clean and orderly.
The duty to send our children to school.
The duty to respect ourselves, even as we respect others.
This statement, complaint and prayer we submit to the American people, and Almighty God.
Historian David L. Lewis describes the Niagara Movement as part of the Talented Tenth's response to growing discontent with Booker T. Washington's policies, as well as a reaction to the increasing racism, violence, and oppressive laws that followed the end of Reconstruction in the American South. The Talented Tenth was the phrase that W.E.B. Du Bois coined to describe an emerging black professional class. As epitomized by the members of the Niagara Movement, most of the Talented Tenth had some education in the liberal arts. Many were college graduates who valued higher education for their race, as shown by the paragraph on education in the Declaration. This was in marked contrast to the Tuskegee Institute's focus on industrial education.
Booker T. Washington had already asked for Du Bois's help in organizing a conference of black leaders to be held in January of 1904, despite the fact that Du Bois had criticized Washington and his accommodationism in 1903 in The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois's experience at this conference and his frustration with serving on the Committee of Twelve—the political action group organized by Washington—led Du Bois to consult with Monroe Trotter, Minnesota lawyer Frederick L. McGhee, and Chicago doctor Charles E. Bentley about forming a more radical black organization. As Fox describes in Trotter's biography, the four planned a secret meeting for the summer of 1905. Du Bois invited fifty-nine men to come join "organized, determined, and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth." Twenty-nine men attended the historic conference which resulted in the Declaration of Principles.
Although some accounts of the Niagara Movement's first meeting claim that it was scheduled to be held in Buffalo and that the men were denied hotel rooms because of their race, or because of a shortage of rooms caused by an Elks Club convention, there is no documented evidence for this. Buffalo residents and Du Bois supporters Mary Burnette Talbert and William H. Talbert may have suggested the Fort Erie resort location to Du Bois, who made the arrangements. Interestingly, there is some evidence that Booker T. Washington's followers kept all but a few newspapers from reporting on the Niagara Movement.
The Niagara Movement was officially incorporated in January 1906. By the time of its second conference in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, in August 1906, the group had about 170 members in thirty branches and had distributed over ten thousand pieces of literature, including their Declaration. Despite the fact that the Niagara Movement only survived a few more years as an organization, Du Bois used both the organization's framework and its principles as the blueprint for a new, hugely successful group, the NAACP, in 1909.
Harlan, Louis R. The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol. 3. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1974.
Lewis, David L. W.E.B. Du Bois—Biography of a Race, 1868–1919. New York: Henry Holt, 1993.
Bauerlein, Mark. "Washington, Du Bois, and the Black Future." Wilson Quarterly 28, 4 (2004): 74-86.
"Niagara's Declaration of Principles." Human and Civil Rights: Essential Primary Sources. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/legal-and-political-magazines/niagaras-declaration-principles
"Niagara's Declaration of Principles." Human and Civil Rights: Essential Primary Sources. . Retrieved June 25, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/legal-and-political-magazines/niagaras-declaration-principles
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