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“We Know Our Rights and Have the Courage to Defend Them”: The Spirit of Agitation in the Age of Accommodation, 1883–1909

Shawn Leigh Alexander, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is one of the darkest epochs in American race relations. During the ‘nadir,’ African Americans responded to their conditions in numerous ways, including among others the promotion of self-help, racial solidarity, economic nationalism, political agitation, and emigration. This dissertation focuses on the various organizational responses of African Americans to the rise of racial segregation and violence, from the 1880s through the first decade of the twentieth century. In particular it examines the activities of the Afro-American League, the National Afro-American Council, the Constitution League, the Committee of Twelve and the Niagara Movement, demonstrating how these organizations' platforms and activities foreshadowed the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Shifting attention away from the leadership role of W. E. B. Du Bois and his involvement in the Niagara Movement, a secondary aim of this dissertation is to highlight the roles of intellectuals and activists such as T. Thomas Fortune, Bishop Alexander Walters, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, Jesse Lawson, Lewis G. Jordan, Kelly Miller, Archibald Grimké, Booker T. Washington and John E. Milholland. The dissertation explores the way in which their participation in the organizations mentioned above contribute to the foundation of the NAACP. The ideas and the activities of the Afro-American League and the National Afro-American Council antedated those of the Niagara Movement, and much of the leadership of the aforementioned groups brought their experiences together to create the NAACP.

Subject Area

Black history|American history|Black studies|Ethnic studies|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Alexander, Shawn Leigh, "“We Know Our Rights and Have the Courage to Defend Them”: The Spirit of Agitation in the Age of Accommodation, 1883–1909" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3152669.