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The Niagara Movement was a black civil rights organization founded in 1905 by a group led by W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter. It was named for the "mighty current" of change the group wanted to effect and Niagara Falls, the Canadian side of which was where the first meeting took place in July 1905.[1] The Niagara Movement was a call for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement was opposed to policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington.

In July 1905 a group led by W. E. B. Du Bois, John Hope, Fredrick L. McGhee, and William Monroe Trotter met at the Fort Erie Hotel in Fort Erie, Ontario, opposite Buffalo, New York, to discuss full civil liberties, an end to racial discrimination, and recognition of human brotherhood. Differing opinions exist on why the group met in southern Ontario. A popular legend, which cannot be substantiated with primary sources, is that they had originally planned to meet in Buffalo, but were refused accommodation.[2][3] And the other, which is substantiated with many primary sources, states that the original plan was to find a quiet, out of the way location for the event.[4][5]

The philosophies of the group were in direct contrast to more conciliatory philosophies that proposed patience over militancy. Fifty-nine men were invited to this first meeting but only 29 attended.[6] The Niagara Movement eventually split into separate committees and divided among the states, establishing chapters in twenty one states by mid-September and reaching 170 members by year’s end. By 1910 however, due to weak finances and internal dissension the group was disbanded.[7]

Their second meeting, the first to be held on U.S. soil, took place at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown's raid. The three-day gathering, starting on August 15, 1906 at the campus of Storer College (now part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park), discussed how to secure civil rights for African Americans and was later described by Du Bois as "one of the greatest meetings that American Negroes ever held." Attendees walked from Storer College to the nearby Murphy Family farm, relocation site of the historic fort where John Brown's quest to free four million enslaved blacks reached its bloody climax. Once there they removed their shoes and socks to honor the hallowed ground and participated in a ceremony of remembrance.

End of the Niagara Movement

The Niagara Movement suffered from a number of organizational flaws including a lack of funding and central leadership. Additionally, Booker T. Washington's opposition drew support away from the group.[2] Following the Springfield Race Riot of 1908, the Niagara Movement admitted their first white member, Mary White Ovington, a settlement worker and socialist.[1] In 1911, the remaining membership of the Niagara Movement joined with a number of white progressives to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Declaration of Principles

The Niagara movement published their Declaration of Principles in 1905. The document was largely written by Du Bois[8] In it the organization recognizes the progress made by Negroes and listed several concerns. First among these concerns were suffrage for women, civil liberty, equal economic opportunities, decent housing and neighborhoods, and equal access to education. The movement also made demands for equal justice in the American court system including removing discrimination from jury selection, equal punishments and equal efforts at reformation. The group also called for facilities for dependent children and juvenile delinquents and the abolition of the convict lease system. Employers were challenged to provide Negro-Americans with permanent employment. Labor unions were similarly challenged to stop boycotting Black laborers. The declaration also called for the nation to treat Black soldiers fairly by rewarding them for their service with promotions and to stop barring Blacks from military academies. The nation was also called upon to enforce the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Declaration of Principles also made clear that any practice of segregation and discrimination was intolerable whether it was from the government, businesses, or even the Christian church. The document condemns any impression of assent to inferiority and submissiveness and indicated an absolute refusal to apologize for complaining loudly and insistently stating that "Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty". In closing the document thanks those who have provided support for equal opportunity and promised to continue to demand the rights listed and to carry out the following duties: voting, respecting the rights of others, working, obeying the laws, being clean and orderly, sending their children to school, and self respect.


  • W. E. B. Du Bois
  • John Hope
  • Fredrick L. McGhee
  • William Monroe Trotter
  • J. R. Clifford
  • L. M. Hershaw
  • F. H. M. Murray
  • Mrs. Gertrude Wright Morgan
  • Mrs. O.M. Waller
  • Mrs. H.F.M. Murray
  • Mrs. Mollie Lewis Kelan
  • Mrs. Ida D. Bailey
  • Miss Sadie Shorter
  • Mrs. Charlotte Hershaw.
  • Mary White Ovington, a suffragette, socialist, Unitarian, journalist, and co-founder of the NAACP.

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