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"If you dare to struggle,
you dare to win."

- Fred Hampton

NATIONAL AFRO AMERICAN LEAGUE (1887–1893)

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The first Afro-American League (AAL) was established in 1887 before changing its name, two years later, to the National Afro-American League (NAAL). The focus of the league was to obtain full citizenship and equality for African-Americans.

Timothy Thomas Fortune, editor of the New York Age and Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Washington, D.C. as key figures in the NAAL, sought equal opportunities in voting, civil rights, education, and public accommodations.  The organization also sought to end lynchings in the South.

As one of the key figures of the NAAL, Fortune organized the first national meeting in January 1890, where 36-year-old Joseph C. Price, then President of Livingston College in North Carolina, was elected President of the League. During this meeting, the League adopted a constitution that would not accept politicians in order to escape the grasp of the Republic Party’s control. Their main goal would be fighting Jim Crow on legal grounds.

The NAAL initially had several successful lawsuits including a legal victory involving the bar of a New York City hotel where Fortune himself was refused service. However, due to the lack of resources and support from prominent politicians, the organization was unable to continue its efforts and disbanded in 1893. Five years later, the NAAL revived again, but became the Afro American Council (AAC) with Fortune again in a leadership role and Alexander Walters as president.

During the League’s short span, the southern and northern branches created in that time focused on different agendas reflecting the local issues in their areas.  Southern branches tried to unite the various local organizations into a single group or at least a coalition to challenge Jim Crow.  Northern branches, recognizing that blacks in their region usually had voting and civil rights denied to African Americans in the South, sought to mobilize white public opinion to allow for fuller participation of blacks in the region’s political, economic and cultural life.  Neither approach proved particularly effective at that time and the NAAL eventually faded from the scene.  The struggle against discrimination in the North and South would eventually be taken up by its successor organizations, the African American Council, the Niagara Movement, and eventually the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1887 New York Age editor T. Thomas Fortune wrote editorials calling for the formation of a National Afro-American League. He planned for the league to seek the elimination of disfranchisement, lynching, segregation on railroads and in public accommodations, and abuse of black prisoners. Although Fortune aimed most of his attacks at the segregated South, he also addressed discrimination in the North. He helped establish local league branches in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and California.

The first convention of the league as a national organization, consisting of local branches from the South as well as the North, took place in Chicago in 1890. The convention, which consisted entirely of African-American delegates, adopted a constitution pledging to fight racial injustice by influencing popular opinion through the press and by obtaining favorable decisions from the courts. Although Fortune was temporary chairman of the convention, the delegates did not elect him president, in part because Fortune's distrust of political activity angered some delegates to the convention. Instead, the delegates chose North Carolina educator and clergyman Joseph C. Price as president and made Fortune the league's secretary.

The league was short-lived, however, because of the inability of local branches to support themselves financially. The second convention in Knoxville in 1891 attracted far fewer delegates than the first. Although this convention elevated Fortune to the presidency, he did not have the funds to pursue a test case against railroad segregation as he had planned. By 1893 Fortune was forced to admit the bankruptcy and imminent dissolution of the league.

Yet the persistence of lynching and disenfranchisement throughout the late 1890s gave impetus to a drive to restore the league. Fortune and Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church revived the organization as the Afro-American Council on September 15, 1898, in Rochester, New York. At the time of its founding the council was the largest organization of national African-American leaders in the nation. At the council's second meeting in December 1898, Bishop Walters became the council's first president, Fortune the first chairman. Walters attacked Booker T. Washington's accommodationist approach to race relations, while Fortune attacked President William McKinley for failing to publicly oppose racial violence. Despite Walters's attacks, Washington, who was extremely influential in the council, was able to have most of the important positions filled with his loyal followers. Fortune depended on Washington for political favors and the financing of the New York Age.

Washington did not openly oppose the council when it condemned segregation and lynching, and he joined the council in supporting President Theodore Roosevelt for being receptive to African-American concerns. Yet Washington did oppose other council proposals made under Walters's leadership; among these was an 1898 council motion that called for states that disfranchised blacks to have their congressional representation curtailed. Washington made efforts to have Walters replaced by Fortune as council president, and achieved this in 1902.

Fortune resigned from the council in 1904 in order to give more time and financial support to the New York Age. The council declined briefly as a result of Fortune's departure, but the next year Bishop Walters, with some support from Washington, revitalized the council as its new president. However, by 1907 Walters began to associate with members of W. E. B. Du Bois's Niagara Movement, and Washington withdrew his influence and support from the council. In 1908 Walters officially joined the Niagara Movement, and in 1909 he joined the fledgling National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With Washington's abandonment of the council, the nervous collapse of Fortune in 1907, and the emerging alliance of Walters with Du Bois, the council became moribund by 1908.


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