This Day In History: July 11

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Niagara Movement members begin meeting on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. This all-African American group of scholars, lawyers and businessmen came together for three days to create what would soon become a powerful post-slavery Black rights organization. Although it only lasted five years, the Niagara Movement was an influential precursor to the mid-20th century civil rights movement.

Scholar-activist W.E.B. Du Bois was a founding member of the Niagara Movement. Twenty-nine men showed up for the group's initial meeting, which discussed establishing an organization to fight racial segregation and promoting the full incorporation of African Americans into U.S. society.

Du Bois was determined to pit this new group in opposition to the platforms put forward by the Tuskegee Institute’s famed Booker T. Washington—then the nation’s foremost spokesperson on Black issues.

Washington had famously declared in his 1895 “Atlanta Compromise” speech that Black people should remain in the South and work alongside white citizens, even in the face of Jim Crow segregation and race-based violence.

The Niagara Movement opposed Washington’s ideas of appeasement. Members coordinated the creation of several state-level chapters and vowed to agitate for Black voting rights, better health care, education, employment opportunities and civil liberties.

Despite continuing to meet annually around the country, membership in the Niagara Movement only reached a high of 170. A large part of its lack of support was due to its opposition towards Washington, who wielded enough influence to limit publicity about the organization. By 1910, the Niagara Movement had completely disbanded, but its principles lived on in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.