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How And Why Were The Naacp And The National Urban League More Than Civil Rights Organisations? Consider The Period Up To 1930.

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How and why were the NAACP and the National Urban League more than civil rights organisations? Consider the period up to 1930.

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and National Urban League, founded in 1909 and 1910 respectively, were established to serve the growing needs and pressing concerns of African-Americans at the time. The issues were basically of integration and equality. The period of Reconstruction had seen constitutional reform but proper interpretation and implementation was still unrealized. By the late 1800s the southern states were again led by white supremacist interests and segregation was comprehensive and legal: the Jim Crow system.

The NAACP investigated and exposed legal infringements, drawing attention to legal injustice and to the dire state of race relations. The NAACP was committed to fighting these injustices and gaining ground with regard to civil rights through the courts. Progress was slow during this period. There were a few successes such as Supreme Court decisions against the grandfather clause (1915) and restrictive covenants (1917) which affected voting but the more notable successes came later. The NUL was established in response to the mass movement of blacks in the 'Great Migration' or 'Black Migration' as it would be called, that took place circa 1916-1930. African Americans were moving in large numbers from the rural south to the urban north where they encountered unfamiliar circumstances. The NUL sought to help these migrants adapt to the new conditions. The also wanted to improve the urban situation, the housing, sanitation and health situations and employment and recreational opportunities. Another important factor was the repression that culminated in the 'Red Summer' of 1919. Race riots, twenty six that year, lynching of African American soldiers returning from Europe, unions threatened by the perceived threat of migrating blacks and the Klu Klux Klan.

Both organisations published a magazine as an 'official organ' promoting their civil rights aims. The NAACP magazine The Crisis, started in 1910 was intended to draw attention to the policies and program of the organisation. W.E.B. DuBois was the editor until 1932 with Jessie Fauset as the literary editor from 1919. By the end of its first decade the NAACP had 90 000 members across 310 branches with most of its membership coming from the south. 1000 copies of The Crisis a month were sold and the readership extended beyond the membership of the NAACP. This was one way in which the north and south were connected. The drive was national and not restricted to the urban or educated. Although the headquarters was in New York and the Renaissance was happening in Harlem, the readership was national. The Crisis expounded the NAACP's program, reported their activities and tried to enlist members. It monitored race relations throughout the country, featured the results of their investigations and often graphic photographs of the results of violence against blacks such as the lynching which was still happening with frightening regularity in the south. Despite this it was not all comment and protest. It also functioned as entertainment and helped to boost the morale of the black community, offering positive role models and drawing attention to success stories. It played a role in self- identification and definition giving the African American a self controlled means of chronicling his history. The NUL magazine was Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, the title being somewhat explanatory, started in 1923 by Charles S. Johnson when he joined the organisation. Intended to compete with The Crisis, Opportunity had a sociological bent. It offered the social science perspective, publishing the results of its social investigation and research into the lives of urban African Americans.

Both magazines, like their parent organisations went on to do more than these initial objectives and indeed were the means for the organisations to do so. Both magazines then go on to encourage artistic and literary production by publishing poetry, fiction, essays etc beyond the scope of comment on discrimination and offering prizes. The Crisis offered the Amy Springarn Medal from 1924 and Opportunity began offering prizes in 1925. Via these organs, the NAACP and NUL played major roles in what came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. David Levering Lewis made the comment that 'The Harlem Renaissance was a somewhat forced phenomenon, a cultural nationalism of the parlor, institutionally encouraged and directed by leaders of the national civil rights establishment for the paramount purpose of improving race relations'.

The first phase of the Renaissance beginning about 1917 and ending in 1923 was heavily influenced by white artists and writers - 'Bohemians and Revolutionaries' who for various reasons took an interest in black people and the way they lived. The second phase from early 1924 to about mid-1926 was dominated by the NUL and NAACP and their Civil Rights Establishment. This phase was one of interracial collaboration between the whites Zora Neale Hurston called 'Negrotarians' and the African American Talented Tenth as defined by W.E.B. DuBois. This was the realisation of DuBois' idea of the 'mobilizing elite' of the Talented Tenth and the lifting of the mass from the top by its educated and talented elite.

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