NOTE: This entry is about the National Urban League. It was excerpted from the booklet “The National Urban League: 100 years of Empowering Communities” authored by Anne Nixon and produced by The Human Spirit Initiative, an organization with a mission to inspire people to desire to make a difference and then act on it. The leaders of The Human Spirit Initiative believe that today’s established organizations were new ideas 75-100 years ago and we owe those ideas to their founders. By studying, researching and communicating the details of the lives of these founding leaders within the context of their times, it is possible to create greater understanding of and commitment to strengthening civil society through individual initiative and collective endeavors in building community. For more information on The Human Spirit Initiative and a list of their publications visit: www.human-spirit-initiative.org
Introduction: Established in 1910, The Urban League is the nation’s oldest and largest community- based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream. Today, the National Urban League, headquartered in New York City, spearheads the non-partisan efforts of its local affiliates. There are over 100 local affiliates of the National Urban League located in 35 states and the District of Columbia providing direct services to more than 2 million people nationwide through programs, advocacy and research. The mission of the Urban League movement is to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights. (Source: www.nul.org, July, 2006)
Background: The National Urban League was founded in 1910. The Civil War between North and South had ended forty-five years before, but the country was still deeply divided, and most former slaves remained locked in a system of political powerlessness and economic inequality. The new organization set two major goals – remove barriers to racial equality and achieve economic empowerment for the country’s Negro citizens.
Slavery had been abolished in 1865 by the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution. The 14th and 15th amendments went further and guaranteed equal treatment to Negroes and gave Negro men the right to vote. Despite these Constitutional protections, the civil war continued to rage in the hearts and minds of white Southerners. They were resigned to the abolition of slavery but were not willing to accept either social change or political domination by former slaves.
When Congress removed civilian governments in the South and put the former Confederacy under the rule of the U.S. Army, the South resisted violently. Ku Klux Klan groups attempted to restore white supremacy by murder and other forms of mayhem. Black Codes were enacted in the South that severely limited the former slaves’ legal rights and economic options. Some states limited the occupations open to Negroes. None allowed Negroes to vote or provided public funds for their education. In response, the Army conducted new elections in which the freed slaves could vote while those who held leading positions under the Confederacy were denied the vote and could not run for office.
The Army’s intervention in the South ended in 1877. The newly formed legislatures in former slave states quickly adopted Jim Crow laws that again severely limited the civil rights of freed slaves and once more denied them the right to vote. (Note: The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted between 1876 and 1965. They mandated racial segregation in all public facilities, with a “separate but equal” clause for Negro Americans. In reality, this led to treatment and accommodations that were usually inferior to those provided for white Americans, and systematized a number of economic, educational and socialdisadvantages.) The Supreme Court’s “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson legitimized Southern segregation policies.
The alternatives for former slaves were limited. They could work for white farmers as tenants or sharecroppers, barely a step above slavery, or they could leave the South. Many opted to migrate and moved North to find a better life. By 1910, the Negro population had increased dramatically in urban areas of the North, and with the population explosion, a new set of problems emerged.
The Co-Founders: Two people stepped forward at this time to provide leadership – one Negro, one white; one man, one woman – and together, they founded the National Urban League. Their names were Ruth Standish Baldwin and George Edmund Haynes. The multiracial character of the Urban League that they established still exists today.
Ruth Standish Baldwin came from a family of early New England colonists with a history of social activism. Her father was the editor of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican. A graduate of Smith College, she was the wife of William Henry Baldwin, Jr., president of the Long Island Railroad.
The Baldwins were deeply concerned about the poor and disadvantaged. The health and welfare of Negro migrants were their particular interest. Mr. Baldwin was an active participant in civic commissions and social agencies and had many ties to the Negro community. He was called “the Galahad of the Marketplace” by Dr. Felix Adler (the founder of the Ethical Culture movement) because of his dedication and incorruptibility. Baldwin was also a trustee of the Tuskegee Institute and counted Booker T. Washington among his friends. He belonged to a group of New York civic leaders and reformers known as the Committee of Fifteen. In 1896, this group formed the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions of Negroes in New York (CIICNNY).
Mrs. Baldwin shared his dedication and social awareness. She was active in the National League for the Protection of Colored Women (NLPCW) – an organization formed to help protect Negro women new to Northern cities. When William Baldwin died in 1905, Ruth Standish Baldwin committed herself to continuing their work.
George Edmund Haynes, unlike Ruth Standish Baldwin, did not come from a background of privilege. His father was a laborer, and his mother was a domestic servant with great ambitions for her son. When George Haynes completed his elementary education, the family moved from his birthplace in Pine Bluff, Arkansas to the more cosmopolitan community of Hot Springs.
At a point in history when educational opportunities for Negroes ranged from limited to nonexistent, George Haynes’ achievements were astonishing. In Hot Springs, he completed the limited educational opportunities available and went on to take high school level courses and college preparatory studies at the Agricultural and Mechanical University in Huntsville, Alabama. He received his bachelor’s degree from Nashville, Tennessee’s Fisk University and then a master’s degree from Yale. Because he was an outstanding student, Yale awarded him an academic scholarship, and he waited tables and stoked furnaces for his room and board.
His varied and distinguished career began immediately after the Yale years. His first job was with the Colored Men’s Department of the International YMCA, where his visits to Negro colleges and universities broadened his horizons. But his academic studies continued, and he added to his reputation as a brilliant scholar, the distinction of being the first Negro to receive a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University.
Dr. Haynes was a man of many talents with an extraordinary number of professional commitments. In addition to the National Urban League, he also founded and directed the Department of Social Science at Fisk University. At Fisk, his students trained at the Bethlehem Training Center that he had established as part of the Social Science Department. As part of their training, they did field work in existing agencies, and many were assigned to local affiliates of the National Urban League (Philadelphia, St. Louis, Nashville, Baltimore, Memphis, and Louisville). This model program was repeated at the University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University, and New York University.
Together, Ruth Standish Baldwin and George Haynes founded the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (CUCAN). Within a year, three organizations – the Committee for Improving Industrial Conditions of Negroes in New York, (founded in 1906), the National League for the Protection of Colored Women (founded in 1905), and the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes – merged to form the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (NLUCAN) on September 29, 1910 in New York City. George Edmund Haynes became the Executive Secretary in 1910 and served in this capacity until 1918. Ruth Standish Baldwin served as President, Board of Trustees from 1913 to 1915. In 1920, the name was later shortened to the National Urban League.
In 1918, Dr. Haynes left the National Urban League to become director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Division of Negro Economics. He left behind a well-planned and efficient foundation to help guide Negro migrants to better education, employment and housing. Dr. Haynes left the National Urban League with a successor of his own choosing, Eugene Kinckle Jones. Jones came from a family of Negro leaders. His father was educated at Hamilton Academy and Colgate University and was one of the first college-educated Negroes in the State of Virginia. His mother attended Howard University and the New England Conservatory of Music and taught music at Hartshorn Memorial College for 40 years. Eugene Kinckle Jones received his undergraduate degreefrom Virginia Union and his master’s degree from Cornell. Dr. Haynes had recruited him in 1911 to serve as the National Urban League Field Secretary. In this position, he led a 1913 meeting of Negro leaders with American Federation of Labor (AFL) President, Samuel Gompers. This was a first step toward organizing Negro labor.
Eugene Kinckle Jones became the second National Urban League Executive Secretary in 1918 and held the position for the next twenty-three years – a period of extraordinary growth. When he took office, the National Urban League had an operating budget of $2,500. Twenty-three years later, the League had 58 affiliates and an annual budget of $2,500,000.
Several subsequent leaders of the National Urban League were also leaders in the field of professional social work. They included:
Lester Blackwell Granger (1940-1961) Note: (Note: Lester Granger gave a presentation on Community Organizations at the 1947 meeting of the National Conference on Social Welfare. To read it go to: Social Work: Community Organization Process.)
Whitney Moore Young, Jr. (1961-1971)
John Edward Jacob (1981-1994)
Sources: The National Urban League: www.nul.org
The Human Spirit Initiative – Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things – For more information about the National Urban League, visit: human-spirit-initiative.org
“Let us work not as colored people nor as white people for the narrow benefit of any group
alone, but together, as American citizens, for the common good of our common city, our
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