Civil Rights, the early twentieth century

In the decades after Reconstruction, Southern-based Jim Crow laws deprived blacks of basic civil liberties. Even in the North, blacks faced employment inequities and housing segregation. In New York State, racially restrictive real estate covenants kept blacks from purchasing or renting homes in desirable neighborhoods. As civil liberties eroded throughout the nation, blacks continued to try to actively protect their rights. Race organizations became important to racial pride, self-help, and the push for civil rights.

New York State’s African American leadership championed efforts to advance or shield black interests. In 1905, W.E.B. Du Bois and William Trotter were among the founders of the Niagara Movement. The group demanded full civil rights and enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments nationwide. Several of its founding members helped establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in New York City in 1909.

In 1910, the National Urban League began in New York. In 1916, Marcus Garvey brought his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) from Jamaica to Harlem, the community where tens of thousands of newly arriving black immigrants were allowed to live, although they paid higher rent than whites.

Triumph over adversity became the daily, weekly, and annual goal for African Americans throughout the United States.


By the early 1900s, African Americans shifted the focus of their struggle from freedom to equality. Community groups like the N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) published newspapers and magazines to promote positive images of black life. The stage was thus set for the modern civil rights movement to secure the future for black children in America.