Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Remember the Niagara Movement



Liberty, freedom and the inherent right of self-determination will never be granted unto the oppressed by the oppressor. The victims of exploitation and tyranny must always take the right of democratic self-rule from those who deny it from them.

Early American radical and revolutionary Patrick Henry famously summed up the downtrodden battle cry-"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

This patriotic declaration of humankind's inherent right to self-determination is a primary attribute of the truly courageous souls.

No organization personified this attitude and its subsequent mission more than the Niagara Movement.

Founded in 1905 by W.E.B. Du Bois, Monroe Trotter and 30 others in a Buffalo church, this organization rejected the accommodation policies of Booker T. Washington.

Dubois summed up this group's mission: "We want full manhood suffrage, and we want it now…We are men! We want to be treated as men. And we shall win." Du Bois and his fellows were obvious men of courage, undaunted in their determination for equality. Many women also joined the organization, which also advocated full suffrage for women.

The general public often characterized the Niagara movement as "too radical" to achieve its ends. This accusation was well deserved because the chief political tool of the Niagara Movement was to use unconventional means, such as strikes and protests, to fight for their cause.

Caucasians and accommodationists such as Booker T. Washington said the Niagara Movement would only continue to pour gas on to the fire of racial tension. Some still accuse men like Dubois and Trotter of using fear tactics to achieve equality. They argued that the best way for African Americans to achieve equality was to wait and use the proper channels of participation.

But really, how could African Americans use "the proper channels of participation" if they were denied those channels? The real question we must ask when we are confronted with civil disobedience is "what would I do if I were in their situation."

Say, for example, U students were severely persecuted just for the fact that we go to the U. We were beaten, lynched, raped, killed, bombed, shot at and denied jobs, education and general human dignity. What would you do?

I like to think that most U students would have the attitude of Patrick Henry. Certainly, unconventional political participation is necessary to achieve equal rights for those who are denied them.

The Niagara Movement, the precursor for the NAACP, was a necessary movement organized by true American patriots. The U.S. government officially honors and recognizes slaveholders such as George Washington and genocidal tyrants like Columbus, but refuses to recognize people like Du Bois and Frederick Douglass. It's obvious to see whose history the government respects.

American history ought to tell the story of the Niagara Movement and those early black patriots. America would not be the land it is today without their sacrifices and persistence.

Think of how our society could be if we hearkened to the principles of the Niagara Movement. We would cease to be the land of inequality and warmongering and start to live out the ideal of the Declaration of Independence-that all men and women are created equal.

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