On September 29, 1910—102 years ago today—a coalition of progressive whites and African Americans founded the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. One year later, this Committee would merge with other social welfare organizations to form the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes, which would soon become the National Urban League.
In the League’s first annual report, leaders listed three goals:
“a. To promote and to do constructive and preventative social work for improving the social and economic conditions among negroes in urban centers.
“b. To bring about coordination and cooperation among existing agencies where necessary.
“c. To secure and to train negro social workers.”
To help train future social workers, the League established relations with Fisk University and Columbia University.
Throughout the following decades, the National Urban League provided educational and employment opportunities and counseled African Americans who migrated from the South. The organization grew quickly, with staff in 30 cities by the end of World War I, and became a major force in the civil rights movement.
The League, led by former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, continues today to fight for civil rights in areas of life ranging from economic empowerment to civic engagement.
To view minutes from the Committee’s first meeting, check out this link from the Library of Congress. To learn about the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes’ first annual report (January 1912), check out this New York Times article.
To learn more about the National Urban League, check out this page from PBS or this informational document from the organization. The League’s website also provides a helpful summary of its history and mission.
To learn more about the League’s early work, check out Touré Reed’s Not Alms but Opportunity: The Urban League and the Politics of Racial Uplift, 1910-1950 (UNC Press 2008) and Felix Armfield’s Eugene Kinckle Jones: The National Urban League and Black Social Work, 1910-1940 (University of Illinois Press 2012).
To learn more about African American migration to the North, check out Nicholas Lemann’s The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (Anchor 1992).
To learn more about Progressive Era reforms in New York, check out John Louis Recchiuti’s Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City (University of Pennsylvania Press 2006).