During the first half of the 20th Century civil rights for Blacks in America was a contentious issue. If not for the deeds of Black civil rights leaders W.E.B Du Bois and Marcus Garvey and the efforts of the NAACP, who knows how bad the relationship between different races would be and as Du Bois prophetically stated the main problem would be of the colour line.
William Edward Burghard Du Bois is one of the greatest black civil rights leaders of all time. He was the first African American to achieve a PhD at Harvard University. He took it upon himself to study the black man and solve the race problem which he described as the friction between different groups of people; it is the difference in aim, in ideals of two different races (The Conservation of Races, 1897).
Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, a town that had about 25 black people in Massachusetts. From an earlier age he was taught songs of ancient tradition and learn their true meanings from his Grandmother. He attended High School and during those years he started to develop a keen interest into the development of his race. Encouraged by his mother (his father left him shortly after birth), Du Bois excelled in his studies at school and like most other people with his intellectual ability had burning desire to attend Harvard University. Yet Du Bois soon realised the social boundaries that took place. The only thing that set him apart from the rest of his counterparts was a fierce determination to succeed and make a difference for his community.
At 15 he became a correspondent for New York newspapers and the local community were starting to see him as the best thing since sliced bread. But, through lack of financial support Du Bois failed to get into Harvard and had to attend Fisk College in Nashville, Tennessee.
At Fisk, Du Bois developed a deeper understanding of the race problem. His mother died during this period, and this forced him to grow up even faster. Discrimination now stared him right in the face and he became a writer, editor and an inspirational public speaker.
He completed his education at Fisk and was rewarded with a scholarship to Harvard. Here he studied philosophy, centred in history and economics and social problems. He received his Bachelors degree in 1890, but despite having his heart set on attending Harvard for so long, Du Bois stated that, ?I was in Harvard but not of it.
He immediately started working for his masters and doctors degree. Du Bois chose to study at the University of Berlin in Germany and gained outstanding credentials that would help him further his work in life.
Du Bois became a teacher and taught history and economics at Atlanta University. He attended the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 and later organised Pan-African conferences in Europe and the United States. Du Bois received the Spingarn Medal in 1920.
Attention focused on Du Bois when he openly disagreed with fellow African American, Booker T. Washington in his book The Souls of Black Folks. Washington encouraged Black people to accept their inferior place, whilst Du Bois believed in racial equality. Washington then organised a rally in Boston, only to be met aggressively by William Trotter (a Harvard College friend of Du Bois). Trotter was jailed, but this only gave Du Bois more determination. Du Bois organised action from men who believed in Negro Freedom and growth. Twenty-nine men from fourteen states answered his calls and eventually the Niagara movement started.
Led by Du Bois, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was created when the Niagara movement and some white liberals combined. This association played a big role in shortening the gap between Blacks and Whites. The blacks were being dominated in all facets – economically, politically, educational, employment wise and in quality of life. They were being hung, raped, murdered, intimidated and were recipients of racism. All this despite the fact that there were amendments that gave freedoms to African Americans:
-The Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 (which prohibited slavery)
– The Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 (which prevented states from denying rights to any US citizen)
– The Fourteenth Amendment of 1870 (which gave all citizens the right to vote, regardless of colour, race or former servitude).
This period labelled the Reconstruction Period (1865-1877) brought much hope to the Blacks for equality when it was being enforced by federal troops. But this hope was quickly put to rest, once the troops left. White groups such as the Ku Klux Klan had developed over the years and were keen to gain back control over the blacks again.
Then in 1896 during the age of Jim Crow the Plessy vs. Ferguson case ruled that Blacks get the same facilities but not necessarily the same quality. This separate but equal ruling dominated racial proceedings for the next fifty-eight years until it was overturned in 1954.
Du Bois reacted to this injustice by creating the Niagara movement in 1905. To further emphasise the amount of racism going on in the U.S, the conference had to be held in a Hotel in Niagara Falls, Canada because no American Hotels would take them. They were a dedicated group of African Americans who were determined to bring full political, civil and social rights for black Americans. They did not have enough power to make any great inroads, yet they initiated the NAACP with all members except one, merging to form this new group.
Putting the NAACP?s policy out to the public was the Crisis magazine, which Du Bois was editor-in-chief for 25 years. During his time as editor his outspoken views would drive his fellow black Americans forward and inspire them to put their best foot forward. This led to the funding of many legal battles, even at the Supreme Court.
The NAACP made inroads politically for example, secured enactment of civil rights laws, legally, took the struggle of black rights to legislature and judicature and educationally, fought hard for blacks to get a better education.
Another man who Du Bois disagreed with was Marcus Garvey. Unlike Dubois, Garvey developed a large supporter base, that was drawn to the amount of passion and dedication Garvey displayed.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in on August 17, 1887 as the youngest of eleven children in St Ann?s Bay, Jamaica. Garvey didn`t have the immense intellectual ability of Du Bois, but he developed a passion for African-American History after leaving school (aged 14) and traveling around England. Garvey was a natural leader, initiating a strike when he was working for a printing company in Kingston, Jamaica.
When he arrived back home, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). This gave support to Blacks on the way up and worked on giving them confidence to succeed individually. In 1916, Garvey moved to the United States and started up a UNIA branch in Harlem. He also started a weekly newspaper, the Negro World, in 1918. Here he proved to be an outspoken, persuasive journalist whose heroics proved inspiring.
He argued that for the blacks to gain full respect, they would have to go Back to Africa and fight back as a whole nation. Garvey aggressively encouraged Blacks to fight for their rights in order to improve their conditions. He started up the Black Star Line Steamship Company in 1919, as a starting point for Blacks to network.
The UNIA gathered in over two million members at the height of the storm. But, this all came undone when Garvey was arrested for mail fraud in 1925, by J Edgar Hoover and completed two years in jail before being commuted. Garvey was then deported back to his native Jamaica where a huge crowd greeted him. Jamaica proclaimed Garvey a national hero in 1964.