Black History: Special Delivery

Welcome To Black Mail…..where we bring you Black History:  Special Delivery!

The National Equal Rights League (NERL) was founded in New York in 1864.   It is considered one of the first human rights organizations in the country.  The National Equal Rights League was established at a National Convention of Colored Citizens in Syracuse, NY.  142 delegates attended representing 17 states and Washington DC.  The organization advocated for full and immediate citizenship for African Americans.  It is It’s formation during the Civil War was a catalyst for its focus on full citizenship as compensation for the service of African Americans in the military during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  Founders of the organization including Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglass, and John Mercer Langston, argued that the African American men engaging in military services should be given the right to vote and that both black men and women should have the right of full citizenship.  Over time NERL launched other organizations including the National Negro Bar Association, National Negro Business League, as well as investment groups. 

The organization expanded swiftly throughout the country following the Civil War establishing branches in Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Missouri, and North Carolina.  NERL became affiliated with Republican politics at the local and national levels. (Keep in mind that Republicans back more so mirrored the democratic views of present-day and vice versa.)  Though African Americans represented only a small percentage of the Northern population, NERL branches were active in advocating for expanded civil rights for African Americans.  The group brought several legal challenges to end segregation and other forms of discrimination in various states. 

NERL was also a staunch advocate for education calling for the integration of educational settings while also advocating for African American educators as well. The group found very little support for its advocacy of integration in educational settings.  The group’s influence began to lessen as the 20th century drew near.  However, in 1908 William Trotter reignited interest in NERL as key player in the pursuit of equal rights through legal action in the court system.  At the time, Trotter believed that the legal system would be more supportive of NERL’s cause than federal or state governments.

W.E.B DuBois began to take on a leadership role with NERL during the first decade of the 20th century.  His desire was to integrate NERL and open its membership to white Americans.  His efforts in this regard failed. He then joined the newly organized NAACP.  In many ways, the two groups found themselves in competition for members.

NERL also explored supporting women’s suffrage.  However, the majority of its membership at the time feared that advocacy related to women’s suffrage would lessen their impact to restore black male voting rights in the south.  Women were active in NERL auxiliaries from its inception.  It was not until the first decade of the 20th century that NERL moved toward a more targeted focus on gender as well as racial equity.  Ida B. Wells Barnett, journalist, and anti-lynching activist became vice president of the League fifty years after its founding.  She was a founding member of the NAACP but left the organization to join NERL.  The League challenged the U.S. Congress to make lynching a federal crime during World War One.  As the NAACP grew in prominence NERL began to decline.  By 1921 most NERL members had joined the NAACP. 

Another installment of melanated mail has been delivered. Ponder, reflect and pass it on.