Niagara Movment members J.L. Clifford, L.M. Hershaw, F.H.M. Murray and W.E.B. Du Bois convened in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., in 1906. These black intellectuals often met at the “New Bedford Annex for Boston Radicals” on Arnold Street to debate and address the barriers facing African Americans at the time. The home on Arnold Street became a critical gathering ground for the exchange of ideas and speeches. (Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
|The Niagara Movement’s founder, W.E.B Du Bois, is shown in his office at Atlanta University in 1909. Du Bois was one of many black intellectuals that frequented meetings in New Bedford. (Photo courtesy of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library and the NAACP)
|These women were members of the Niagara Movement. In 1907, more than half of the delegates at the annual meeting in Boston at Faneuil Hall were women. It was the largest gathering of the Niagara Movement and the first to allow women to vote as delegates. (Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
|There were 29 original members of the Niagara Movement who met in Niagara Falls, Canada, in 1905. From there, the circle of black professionals and equal rights activists grew and made a home in New Bedford. (Photo courtesy of University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
It was called “the New Bedford Annex for Boston Radicals,” and at the dawn of the 20th century, the well-appointed house on Arnold Street was one lively place.
Owned by African American lawyer Edwin Bush Jourdain, the house in the West End section of New Bedford saw the likes of W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter debating strategies that challenged the accommodationist policies of Booker T. Washington.
To this day, Jourdain’s descendants confirm that at one time their ancestor’s house had been frequented by the black intelligentsia, who exchanged ideas, rehearsed speeches and executed plans for curing the ills facing black Americans.
Jourdain was a prominent member of a thriving community of color that had been living in New Bedford for decades. His middle-class status and education were nothing new to this community. Coming from a long line of established small businessmen, Jourdain was the nephew of Andrew Bush, who founded Bush Cleaners in 1885.
After graduating from the Boston University School of Law in 1888, Jourdain opened law offices on William Street, just across from New Bedford’s Custom House, still the nation’s oldest continuously operating custom house. Jourdain balanced a legal career with an ever-growing public career.
It wasn’t long before Jourdain found himself among a steadily growing circle of black professionals and equal rights activists in residence or in council in New Bedford. By 1900, his Arnold Street house had become a critical gathering place for the black intellectual elite of the Northeast.
Born between 1855 and 1875, this generation of so-called “radicals” came up against unrelenting barriers and obstructions based on race.
Nonetheless, by accident of birth or by personal meritocracy, many of these radicals had life-altering experiences. Travels abroad, entry into prestigious schools and exposure to unexpected resources were advantages many in these circles had that other blacks did not enjoy.
Such advantages made these circles conspicuous, but it also obliged them to network and congregate with one another. They soon became representative leaders for a segment of America’s population that desperately needed agendas for public policy and political action.
By the turn of the 20th century, these circles were participating in and witnessing the birth of grassroots civil rights meetings and organizations in black America. One of the more famous of these gatherings took place in Niagara Falls, Canada, in 1905.
It was not by chance that E.B. Jourdain was one of the “original twenty-nine” who attended the first meeting of what became known as the “Niagara Movement.” In fact, he was typical of these original founding members who were often politically motivated and unabashedly opinionated when it came to the topic of equal rights for African Americans.
Jourdain and his guests debated the issues of their day in the seclusion of the New Bedford Annex. Back then the list of problems was extensive, and cloaked under concepts such as “separate but equal” or “Jim Crow.”
But it was clear where Jourdain stood on the equal rights issue. According to prominent historian Louis Harlan, Jourdain admired the work of Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee, but was critical of Washington’s conservative public utterances and his failure to be more outspoken on matters of civil rights.
“We respect Mr. Washington’s devotion to the educational interests of his race; we admire his genius in rearing such a beacon light as Tuskegee, in the dismal swamp of ignorance and degradation, the great black belt,” Jourdain wrote one of Washington’s confidantes on Aug. 19, 1902. “But we cannot follow his lead when he counsels ‘nolo contendere’ in the matter of manhood and citizenship rights. We doubt not his sincerity in the belief that he ‘stoops to conquer’ but we don’t admire, agree with or respect his position of passive surrender of all rights in order to win them.”(p2)
One hundred years ago, the civil rights organization
held its largest gathering in Boston to help fight for racial equality
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Southern obeisance was widely accepted at the time by liberal whites and a lot of blacks, even in Northern cities like Boston, where the small black population depended on the white community for jobs and political patronage. William Monroe Trotter wasn’t one of them. He had his own money and his own politics and he used both to help start the Guardian, a weekly newspaper. More »
“I don’t mean to sound elitist, but ghetto lit is crap,” Joyce Jellison said. “Everyone says that at least ghetto lit gets black people reading. I say no. Black people used to read W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright and others who could speak about what was going on during their times without being degrading to black people. What happened?” More »