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The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Topic: FreedomTopic: IdentityTopic: InstitutionsTopic: PoliticsTopic: Forward
Topic: Politics
Toolbox Overview: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Resource Menu: Politics
Text 1. Racial Politics
Text 2. The Race Problem
Text 3. Segregation
Text 4. The Vote
Text 5. Lynching
Text 6. Goals
Text 7. Action
» Reading Guide
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Reading Guide
7.  Action
- Booker T. Washington, Address to the National Negro Business League, 1900
- W. E. B. Du Bois et al., Niagara Movement Declaration of Principles, 1905
- James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamunde Johnson, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," song, 1899

    Negro Business League

"Politics" ultimately means turning words into action. So to conclude this section, we will follow the two black leaders whom we read above, Washington and Du Bois, as they turned their political objectives into action organizations in the early 1900s.

"People who do things," announced the Cleveland Journal, rather "than those who merely 'say things,'" comprised the black leadership attending the 1904 session of the National Negro Business League. Founded by Washington and others in 1900, the League provided a self-help forum for small black businesses, especially in the South. Although not a political group on its face, its goals included the political validation that African Americans would receive from whites, in Washington's view, once they had proved able to progress socially and economically. A view that Du Bois found wanting, even dangerous, especially in its abandonment of "manly self-respect." With other leaders of the northern black elite, Du Bois founded the Niagara Movement in 1905 to promote full civil rights for African Americans. (The movement ended a few years later with the founding of the NAACP, which carried on its principles.)

To conclude this seminar section POLITICS, read the lyrics and listen to the music of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," composed by James Weldon Johnson and his brother, and first performed in 1900. It soon became known as the "Negro national anthem," and in 1920 was adopted by the NAACP as its official song. What does it remain poignant for today's racial struggles? Total pages: 7.

Discussion questions
  1. How does each organization define the "way to liberty?" How does each strive to secure African Americans' "rightful place as citizens?"
  2. Similarly, what attitude would deem African Americans "unworthy of freedom," according to each organization?
  3. How would each group judge the goals of the other?
  4. How would each group judge the tactics of the other, especially the attitude with which its white audience is addressed?
  5. Compare the goals of each group with those of the "Colored Citizens of Norfolk, Virginia" in their 1865 statement entitled Equal Suffrage (see FREEDOM). What has been achieved in forty years? What goals remain?
  6. How does religion function in the texts of this section? What role does it play in African American political discourse of this time?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  What forms of political action did African Americans initiate? For what goals?
  •  How was political action affected by the increase in discrimination and violence during the 1890s?
  •  How did black leaders frame their political objectives for their white audience?
  •  To what extent did black political action affect the lives of ordinary African Americans?

Toolbox: The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865-1917
Freedom | Identity | Institutions | Politics | Forward

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