Notes on African-American History Since 1900

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Who Was Lucy Parsons?

  • forced out of Texas because of her mixed marriage to a former confederate soldier… moved to Chicago

  • opened a dress shop when her husband lost his job

  • powerful writer and speaker, crucial role in worker’s movement in Chicago.

  • 1883 helped founded IWPA

  • A woman of color or mixed African American, Mexican, and Native American heritage, founder in the 1880s of the Chicago Working Women’s Union that organized garment workers and called for equal pay for equal work, and also invited housewives to join the demand of wages for housework – and later (1905), co founder of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which made organizing women and people of color a priority

  • led a march representing the IWW of unemployed men in San Francisco in 1914. The police attacked the marchers and Parsons was arrested.

  • “To Tramps,” famous article she wrote for the IWPA paper

  • rally at Haymarket Square: bomb was hurled at police officers after they attacked the demonstration. Police blamed the IWPA, and arrested her husband Albert

  • all found guilty of murder, in November of that year her husband was hanged

  • 1927 became member of National Committee of the International Labor Defense

  • 1939 joined communist party after working for them for a number of years

  • Parsons died in a fire in her Chicago home in 1942.53

In 1900, 115 lynchings were recorded.

Opposition to Booker T. Washington began to develop among African-American middle class intellectuals in the North. William Moore Trotter of Boston and George Forbes were two of the leading spokesmen who had organized the Boston Guardian. They began to attack Booker T. Washington’s conservatism towards the struggle for political rights of African-Americans. When Washington came to Boston to speak, Monroe Trotter and a group of African-Americans threw rotten eggs and tomatoes at him and Trotter was jailed.
Who was W. E. B. DuBois?
1868 - born on February 23 at Great Barrington, Massachusetts

1888- graduated from Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

1890 - graduated from Harvard cum laude

1892 - attended University of Berlin

1896 - Ph.D from Harvard University

1896 - joined sociology faculty at University of Pennsylvania

1897 - 1910 professor of economics and history, Atlanta University

1910 - editor of annual Studies on the American Negro

1900 - secretary, first Pan-African Conference in England

1903 - the Souls of Black Folk published

1903 - the Talented Tenth published

1905-09 - founder of the Niagara Movement

1909 - one of original founders of the NAACP

1910 - joined Socialist Party (resigned two years later)

1911 - published first novel: Quest of the Silver Fleece

1915 - published the Negro (history, from ancient Egypt to U.S.A.)

1910-34 -Director of Research for NAACP, board member, founder and editor of The Crisis

1911 - participated in First Universal Congress Races in England

1919 - Chief organizer of Pan-African Conference in Paris

1919 - For NAACP, investigated racist treatment of Negro troops in Europe, creating an international scandal

1921 - second Pan-African Congress, London, Brussels, Paris

1921 - Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil published

1923 - third Pan-African Congress, London, Paris and Lisbon

1926 - first extensive trip to USSR

1927 - founds Negro Theatre in Harlem; Fourth Pan-African congress

1934 - resigned from The Crisis and NAACP Board

1934-44 - chair, Sociology Department, Atlanta University

1940 - founder and editor of Phylon magazine 1946 Dusk of Dawn, his second autobiography, published

1943 - organized Conference of Negro Land-Grant Colleges

1944 - extended visits to Haiti and Cuba

1944-48 - returned to NAACP as Director of Special Research

1945 - with NAACP’s Walter White, accredited consultant to U.N. founding

1945 - Presided at Fifth Pan-African Congress, Manchester, England

1947 - edited and presented to the United Nations, An Appeal to the World protesting Jim Crow

1947 - The World and Africa published

1948 - co-chaired Council on African Affairs

1949 - attended Paris Peace Conference and Moscow Peace Conference

1950 - chaired, Peace Information Center

1950-51- indicted, tried and acquitted on charge of “Unregistered foreign agent” with regard to Peach Information Center

1961 - joined communist party, USA

1961 - resided in Ghana at invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah; Director of Encyclopedia Africana Project

1963 - became citizen of Ghana

1963 - Died on August 27, the date on the March on Washington; given state funeral; buried in Accra

1968 - Posthumous publication of Autobiography of W. E. B. DuBois edited by Herbert Aptheker.54

W.E.B. DuBois was stirred by the incident and soon linked up with Trotter. The two organized the Niagara Movement. The Niagara Movement was a reaction to Washington by African-American middle class intellectuals or the developing African-American intelligentsia at that time who wanted to begin a movement, a more aggressive movement for the demanding of political rights. And they met on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and later went to Harpers Ferry. The Niagara Movement never was successful because of the lack of organization and the lack of funds. In 1909 a group of white liberals came together and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP. W.E.B. DuBois joined the NAACP and became editor of the organization’s monthly journal, “The Crisis”.
William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts only five years after the Civil War. As a young man, DuBois sought a private and personal liberation from the burden of race through individual achievements. Early demonstrating rare intellectual gifts, he became an academic paragon – a Harvard doctor of Philosophy, a student on fellowship in Germany and the leading Negro scholar of his day, and still he was not free.
As a young man in high school, DuBois thought that hard study would grant him immunity to racial disabilities. He became concerned with the social development of his race and at age 15 he became the local correspondent for the New York Globe, where he used his position as a vehicle to mobilize African Americans. His column urged them to become more politically aware and active by participating in various community betterment programs. He also wrote articles to persuade them to cultivate an interest in literature and literary societies. After graduating from high school, DuBois received a scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He was ready to leave New England with a feeling of tremendous expectation, for he had assimilated the post-Civil War abolitionist theory of race leadership that the Southern Negroes would prove themselves to all Americans when they were led by college trained Negroes. At Fisk, DuBois, and other future leaders of the African American race in the United States and Africa, received large doses of Latin, Greek, and philosophy. Little attention was given to industrial training, and the students were expected to learn “mental discipline” in order to assimilate a “broad, genuine, culture”.55
As DuBois’ time at Fisk went on, he embraced his race with even greater determination. His early speeches revealed an affirmation of the dual themes of Negro Nationalism and American heritage. He was proud to be a Negro, but wanted for his people all the rights to which they were entitled to as American citizens. DuBois graduated from Fisk in 1888, and took on another undergraduate course load at Harvard, where he further experienced racism and his interests in history, economics and sociology were expanded.56
DuBois admonished that Negroes were not living properly unless they possessed an all-absorbing passion for knowledge. In 1895, he became the first black person to receive a Ph.D. in the social sciences at Harvard University. In 1897, DuBois became a professor of history and economics at Atlanta University and taught there until 1910. During this period, he helped form the American Negro Academy, which was the first formal black intelligentsia group in America.57 It was also during this time that DuBois wrote Souls of Black Folk, a compilation of essays on the African American experience including his views on Booker T. Washington’s tactics of accommodation and conciliation to whites. The polarization between Washington and DuBois was much publicized and often oversimplified.
In 1905, it was DuBois who, sensing the urgent need for organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believed in freedom and growth for African Americans, proposed a conference to map plans for counteraction against the rising tide of disenfranchisement, segregation, and lynching, and against the dominance of Booker T. Washington’s leadership in racial matters. In response to this call, a conference of 29 African American men form 14 states met. Out of this conference was born the Niagara Movement, a group of articulate, highly intelligent African American elite, denouncing racism as “unreasoning human savagery”.58 The Niagara Movement advocated and fought for, among other issues, the abolition of all caste distinctions based simply on race and color, manhood suffrage, and recognition of the highest and best human training as a monopoly of no race or class.59
Ideological splits and financial troubles weakened the Niagara Movement. Its program of racial equality was too far ahead of the historical period and most of its members felt psychologically isolated from the African American masses.60 The Niagara Movement was the first national organization of African Americans, which aggressively and unconditionally demanded the same civil rights for their people that other Americans enjoyed. The men of the Niagara Movement helped to educate African Americans to a policy of protest and taught whites that some colored men were dissatisfied with the prevailing pattern of race violations. The organization hewed a path for younger men to follow and helped to lay the foundation for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.61
After the breakup of the Niagara Movement, DuBois encouraged its members to join the newly founded NAACP. From 1910 to 1934, DuBois was the most prominent and visible leader of the NAACP. He served as its director of research and publicity, and as editor of Crisis, a monthly magazine addressing African American political issues and often featuring African American writers and artists. He used the pages of Crisis to attack Marcus Garvey and to foster Pan-Africanism, labor solidarity, racial chauvinism and a separate African American economic order, thus ignoring the NAACP’s integrationist platform.62
At odds with other members of the NAACP, DuBois resigned from his post in 1934, and returned to teaching at Atlanta University for another decade, during which time he wrote such books as Black Reconstruction and Dusk of Dawn. It was also during this time that he founded Phylon magazine. His published criticism of Atlanta University in Phylon contributed to his being dismissed in 1944.63 DuBois then returned to the NAACP, this time playing only minor roles in its functions.
Other measures of DuBois’ success are his co-founding of the Pan-African Congress (1919); his co-chairing, with Paul Robeson, of the Council of African Affairs; and his chairing of the Peace Information Center, an anti-atomic bomb proliferation group. These latter two associations made him the target of “red baiting” and “witch hunting”. DuBois was accused and acquitted of being an unregistered foreign agent because of his peace activities.
Because of his alienation from America and the opportunity to fulfill a scholarly dream, DuBois accepted Kwame Nkrumah’s invitation to move to Ghana permanently. In late 1961, he became a Ghanaian citizen. At the age of 93, while living in Ghana as an expatriate from the United States, DuBois officially joined the Communist Party. DuBois died on August 27, 1963, at the age of 95. The announcement of his death was made in America at the 1963 March on Washington, to an audience of people who saw DuBois as a symbol of dedicated, uncompromising, militancy, who had made an enormous contribution to the civil rights movement in America.
Who Was William Monroe Trotter?

  • born Springfield Township, Ohio

  • graduated from Harvard in 1895

  • 1899 married daughter of prominent fighter who fought to integrate Boston schools

  • in 1901, Trotter and George Forbes founded Boston Guardian.

  • As a political activist, led protests against segregation in the federal government, led pickets against the Birth of a Nation, and defended the Scottsboro Boys.

  • one of the founders of the Niagara Movement in 1905, withdrew to form the National Equal Rights League.64

Who was Anna Julia Cooper?

  • worked with W. E. B. DuBois

  • enrolled in St. Augustine Academy

  • married St. Augustine graduate George Cooper

  • began to pursue career as a teacher when her husband died

  • received bachelor’s and master’s from Oberlin College

  • subject of public controversy because of education philosophy

  • 1925 received doctorate from University of Paris

  • fourth African American woman to receive doctorates

  • was an anti-lyncher

  • only woman elected to prestigious American Negro Academy

  • received PhD age of 66.65

William Monroe Trotter and Ida B. Wells Barnett, who were also part of the Niagara movement never trusted the white liberals. Trotter did not join the NAACP.

Who Was Chief Alfred Charles Sam?
A Ghanaian who studied in African Missionary Schools, he arrived in Harlem in 1911 to inaugurate the Akim Trading Company on the premise that the “civilized Negro is responsible to develop Africa”. Sam hoped to promote trade between Africans and African Americans while expanding Christianity in Africa. Sam bought land in Britain’s Gold Coast colony in order to trade in mahogany and rubber, which were available there. He purchased the steamship Liberia to settle African Americans from Oklahoma and Texas in the Gold Coast.
By 1914 the Akim Trading company had recruited African American farmers, business people, and professionals through nearly 200 emigration clubs in the southwest. Despite arrest and federal investigation for mail fraud, Sam persevered managing to launch a small excursion to the Gold coast. Ultimately, however, epidemics in Africa decimated the settlers there and Sam’s mysterious disappearance in Africa ended the venture, but a few settlers remained in Africa, helping plant Western ideas in established African towns. Like similar back to Africa movements, Sam’s dream foundered on lack of funds and over reliance on a charismatic leader. 66
Who was Madam C. J. Walker?

  • Birth name Sarah Breedlove

  • Built her empire developing hair products for African American women to regrow their hair.

  • She gave lectures on African-American issues

  • After East St. Louis Race Riot of 1917, devoted herself to having lynching made a federal crime.

  • 1918 she was keynote speaker at many NAACP fund raisers for anti-lynching effort and donated large sums of money to them for that cause at death: considered to be wealthiest African-American woman in America and known to be the first Africa-American woman millionaire67

In 1913, Noble Drew Ali obtained a federal charter to establish the Moorish Science Temple in Newark, N.J., branches were formed in Cleveland and other northern cities. The Moorish Science Temple was the predecessor of the Nation of Islam and religious messianic nationalist movements. Noble Drew Ali cooperated and later worked with Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. Embroiled in a fight, Noble Drew Ali, around 1917, was imprisoned and brutally beaten while in prison. After several years, he was released in Cleveland and is reported to have died as a result of his beatings.

World War I was the turning point in black radicalism because of the social, economic, and political conditions that accompanied this war.68 Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans migrated to major Northern cities looking for jobs and /or escaping the Ku Klux Klan terror in the South. Overcrowded conditions, poor housing and defacto desegregation destroyed the illusion for the recent immigrants that things were okay in the North. The racism African-Americans soldiers faced in the U.S. Army included several gun battles with white racists in Southern towns. This heightened the national consciousness of African-American people.
Between 1916 and 1921, there were some four dozen major occurrences of civil unrest as whites rampaged against African Americans. Cities and towns touched by outbreaks included Chicago, Elaine Arkansas; Knoxville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; Omaha; and the District of Columbia. These racist attacks on African-American communities; the mechanization of Southern agriculture resulting from the use of the mechanical cotton picker introduced in 1944 plus lynchings resulted in approximately two-fifths (37.2%) of the South’s African American population migrating to the North from 1860 to 1960.
African-Americans and the 1920's
During the summer of 1919, known as the Red Summer, approximately 14 African-Americans were killed as whites lead by the Ku Klux Klan attacked African-Americans in various areas of the United States. The African-American people fought back with arms and were in a near mass insurrectionary mood.69
Who were Marcus Garvey and the UNIA?
Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which sought to liberate Africans from their oppression. He was a protégé of Booker T. Washington and espoused his theory of economic independence as a goal to equality.
Garvey felt that in order for Africans to achieve political power, it was necessary for Blacks to carve out their destiny in a state of their own on the African continent. He turned his attention to developing the necessary mechanisms to allow this to happen. His efforts including founding the Black Star Steamship Line which would be the vehicle to transport Africans from the United States to their own homeland in Africa.
In the 1920's Marcus Garvey adapted Booker T. Washington’s basic program of self help with the added concept of African nationalism. Garvey concluded that the African-Americans would never gain civil equality in America and that the only way the African-American people would be protected from racial abuses by Caucasians in the country and others would be the forming of a strong independent African continental government. His program was one of mass migration back to Africa for those with skills and a spiritual and cultural return to Africa by all persons of African descent. He said that if all persons of African descent supported a central continental government it would have the power to protect African people throughout the world. Garvey’s concept was a form of black Zionism. He felt that a vanguard was needed to liberate the Motherland, Africa. Garvey organized a black army for the purpose of liberating Africa called the African Legion. He also organized a Nurse corps called the Black Cross Nurses. He had the beginnings of an air force, motor corps, and brought several ships to transport his vanguard to the Motherland.
Garvey organized the first nationwide black nationalist newspaper called The Negro World, which had a weekly circulation of several thousand.70 Through these vehicles Garvey organized approximately five million African-Americans into the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The Garvey Movement was part of the New Negro movement in which black radicalism came into full blossom. In a certain sense the Garvey movement though it represented the feelings of millions of African-Americans was the right to center wing of the Black Liberation movement of its time. The UNIA roused pride in black people and several incidents between authorities and Garveyites occurred. For the most part the Garvey movement channeled black activism away from agitating against the racial class oppression in the United States and towards returning back to Africa. This became the bone of contention between most black radicals and Garvey as his movement intensified.
But even though the Garvey movement concentrated its efforts on repatriation it affected the political atmosphere in the States. In New Orleans, Garveyites protested Jim Crow trolley car seating, refusing to sit in the colored section. Blacks turned out en masse with guns to demand that the Mayor of New Orleans allow Garvey to speak after Garvey had been refused. Garvey came to New Orleans and spoke in the black community. On one occasion the white police entered an auditorium where Garvey was speaking and according to an eyewitness account, the entire audience rose to its feet with guns and demanded that the white police leave. The white police left and Garvey had a peaceful meeting.71 In New York City, Garveyites attacked white men at random. Such an incident occurred on June 20, 1920 when 200 Garveyites burned two American flags in a bonfire on E. 35th Street in Chicago. Two white men were killed and a Negro policeman was wounded in the uproar that followed.72
What was the argument between W. E. B DuBois of the NAACP and Marcus Garvey about?
Garvey could not accept the interracialism of the NAACP and was very leery of the dominance of light skinned college education Negro in the Black community.
During the same period black members of the left were also very active. Among those representing the left wing of the Black Liberation movement in the 1920's were Hubert Harrison, Chandler Owen, A. Philip Randolph, W.A. Domingo, and Cyril P. Briggs. Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, editors of The Messenger magazine were close to the Socialist Party and advocated a democratic transition to socialism as a solution to the race problem, while W. A. Domingo who headed The Emancipator, became a black bolshevik.73
Who was Hubert Harrison?

  • born 1883 St. Croix, Virgin Islands

  • traveled as a cabin boy

  • science student

  • well-off parents; after his parents’ death, he immigrated to U. S.

  • became a postal worker

  • joined Socialist Party

  • contemporary of Marcus Garvey

  • He wrote 2 articles critical to Booker T. Washington

  • later he was hired as an organizer for party (Socialist)

  • 1911 he began to criticize party for practicing racism, ie., lower pay for African American workers. He quit, but still remained a socialist.

  • in 1921 became professor of empirology

  • in 1922 staff lecturer also associated with YMCA74

Hubert H. Harrison was born on April 27, 1883, in St. Croix, Virgin Island. His parents, William Adolphus and Cecilia Elizabeth Harrison were considered wealthy people by island standards and sent young Harrison to the best institutions on the island.75 During his youth, because of his academic excellence, Harrison traveled around the world as a cabin boy or as a science student after completing his primary education.76 Both of his parents died, leaving Harrison penniless. He migrated to the United States in 1900, got a job as a postal clerk and eventually joined the Socialist Party. At a young age Harrison began writing for various publications, from The New York Times to the International Socialist Review.77

At the age of twenty-four, Harrison was writing book reviews for The New York Times. He also wrote for The New York Sun, The Tribune, and The World. He wrote articles for such magazines as The Nation, The New Republic, and The Masses. He was assistant editor of The Masses for four years. For four years he was also editor of The Negro World, a paper published by Marcus Garvey.78
Harrison was a great scholar, orator and writer. He was an avowed atheist and criticized Christianity, saying it had no relevance for African Americans. In 1909, Harrison joined the Harlem branch of the Manhattan local of the Socialist Party.79 After he had published two editorial letters critical of Booker T. Washington, pressure from the Tuskegee political machine caused him to lose his job at the United States Post Office. He was hired as an organizer by the New York local of the Socialist Party in 1911, but began to criticize the party for racism coming from some of its members in 1912.

Soon after the Industrial Workers of the World was founded, he became an organizer. He participated in the 1913 Patterson, New Jersey silk mills strike, where he cooperated with John Reed, “Big Bill” Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Morris Hillquit.80

As a result of his support, Harrison was suspended from the Socialist Party in 1914. In 1917, he found out that he was paid less than white party organizers, protested and immediately resigned. He returned to the Harlem community as an independent African American organizer. Though disillusioned with the Socialist Party, he remained a Socialist.

Adopting Marxist-Leninist ideology, he argued that racial injustice in the United States was deeply rooted in the competitive economic system created by industrialization, rather than in racial values or “racialism”.81

During the period of intense racial attacks in June 1917, Harrison called for the formation of a revolutionary black nationalist organization. Over two thousand people attended the organizational meeting, which formed the Liberty League of Negro Americans. Hubert Harrison was elected president of the League and editor of its journal, The Voice.82
The Liberty League denounced lynchings, riots (racial attacks against various African American communities by white mobs), Jim Crow, political disenfranchisement, and unjust living and labor practices. The Liberty League took a militant position against African Americans being attacked in riots in East St. Louis; Waco, Texas; and Memphis, Tennessee; and against black soldiers being killed by white policemen in Houston, Texas.83
Speaking in Harlem, Harrison advocated to kill, rather than submit to being killed. Harrison proposed a “New Negro Manhood Movement”.84 In meetings of the Liberty League, Harrison advocated leadership training for African American youth. As a revolutionary nationalist, he expressed racial unity and the possible formation of a “Negro Political Party”.85 As in many African American organizations, splits and divisions occurred in the Liberty League. Harrison was not able to handle the divisions, and in 1918 the Liberty League began to flounder, and eventually became defunct. Many former members of the League joined the UNIA under the leadership of Marcus Garvey.86
In 1921, Harrison became a professor of embryology at the College of Chiropractic in New York, and in 1922 became a staff lecturer with the New York Board of Education. He also lectured at New York University, Columbia, the New York Public Library, 135th Street branch, and at the Central Y.M.C.A.87

In 1925, Harrison helped to form the International Colored Unity League (ICUL), which was to have served as an educational forum. In the first issue of the ICUL’s journal, The Voice of the Negro, which appeared in April 1927, Harrison, the editor of the journal and the president of the organization, revealed that the organization had evolved into a political body.88

In 1927, Harrison began to advocate an African American state, or several states, to be the solution solving the question of equality and self determination for African Americans in the United States. Harrison’s emphasis on youth development helped influence younger radicals such as Wilfred A. Domingo, Cyril Briggs and Richard B. Moore, who considered Harrison the godfather of Harlem black radicalism. Harrison died on December 17, 1927, and left a legacy of mentorship for the radicals of his period.89
Who Was Ben Fletcher?: A Review
Benjamin Harrison Fletcher was born in Philadelphia on April 13, 1890. Both of his parents were born in the Upper South- his father in Virginia, his mother in Maryland in1890, Philadelphia had the largest African American community outside of the South. Fletcher’s parents migrated to Philadelphia from Virginia and had fourth children, two boys and two girls.
Little is known about Fletcher’s life prior to 1910. The Philadelphia Tribune reported in his obituary that he attended both Wilberforce University, The first African American school of higher education in the nation affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, based in Ohio and Virginia Union University but neither institution had any record of his attendance90
In 1910, at the age of 20 years old Fletcher left his parents’ home and began working on the docks of Philadelphia. Fletcher boarded with other African-American men. Fletcher was reportedly a member of the Socialist Party (Sp) in 1910. He was reported to have met Joe Hill and John Reed around 1910. In 1910 there were 3,063 dockworkers in Philadelphia of which 1,369 were African American.

Ben Fletcher became associated with the IWW in 1911 as a longshoreman who was earning 16 dollars weekly prior to becoming a labor organizer in 1913. The wobblies did not tolerate racial discrimination and that factor plus Fletcher’s above average intelligence resulted in him becoming correspondence secretary of local No. 57 in Philadelphia91

Fletcher became a prominent contributor to the IWW’s paper Solidarity starting in 1912. In May 14, 1913 Fletcher began to organize for the IWW. Philadelphia dock workers walked out and struck for better wages and voted to affiliate with the IWW forming local 8 of the Marina Transport Workers of Philadelphia.
Since 2,200 of the 4,200 dock workers were African American, Fletcher’s powerful voice and high intelligence of articulating workers solidarity across racial lines in the concept of One Big Union was an asset.
Local 8 conducted a series of strikes between 1913 and 1916 which resulted in benefits for workers and a stronger union. By 1916 all but two of Philadelphia’s docks were under IWW control. By 1917 dock workers had won their demand for .65 cents per hour wage against the bosses preference of 2.5 cents.
In 1913 the IWW began to achieve a substantial gains as the Union demanded. Thirty five cents an hour instead of accepting the then present rate of twenty to twenty-five cents per hour. By 1916, they IWW controlled all but two of Philadelphia’s docks. On April 5, 1916, the dock workers had without restoring to a strike or without any workers losing time from their jobs. By February 1917, 20 new members a week were being recruited into the Marine Transport workers Union No. 8. They had won a raise demand for sixty cents an hour for loading powder, time and one half for night work, double time for Sundays, holidays, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night and all meal hours.92
Local 8 of the IWW was democratic and inclusive of the rank and file of its members. Committees of 15 longshoremen, with at least one member of each nationality on strike was elected to represent the workers.93 Fletcher had Local 8’s meetings chaired in rotation by different ethnic group’s diversity. By 1917 nearly sixty percent of Philadelphia’s dock workers were African-American who displayed workers solidarity with workers of all ethnicity on the docks.
Local 8 (IWW) dock workers sponsored anti-racist forums to educate members and IWW picnics for workers and their families to socialize with the intention of building comradely.94
Fletcher was an active organizer along the eastern seaboard.
Though the IWW never formulated a strike policy to interfere with the U. S. Government war effort of World War I, on September 5, 1917 the newly created FBI vandalized IWW offices across the country, stealing membership records on the false pretext that the union was aiding to Axis (Germany) nations and was plotting to strike and render America weaker. Within a short period of time 166 Wobblies were indicated, with 101 being to trial in Chicago. Later, others were tried in Wichita and Sacramento. In spite of Local 8’s loyal and vital role in the war effort, Fletcher and five other Philadelphia Wobblies were part of the federal government’s dragnet of the IWW in the fall of 1917.
Many African-American longshoremen who were drafted served in a segregated section of the U. S. army, worked as longshoremen in Europe. African-Americans in Local 8 loaded war materials in Philadelphia and unloaded them in Europe. Philadelphia was probably the most important U. S. port for the war effort. During the war (WWI) there was not one accident or strike on the port.
Fletcher was indicted on September 28, 1917 and arrested on February 10, 1918. After being charged with interfering with the Selective Service Act, violating the Espionage Act of 1917, conspiring to strike, violating the constitutional right of employers executing government contracts and the using the mails to conspire to defraud employers. Fletcher was arrested in Philadelphia and granted bail. A total of 166 Wobblies were indicted but Fletcher was the only African American Wobbly caught in the web. The trial against the Wobblies was definitely a trial to break the back of the IWW. The longest mass trial in American history began April 15, 1918 and lasted for four months. Fletcher was convicted on four counts. He was given a 10 year sentence and a 30,000 fine. Fletcher started serving his term on September 7, 1918 and was out on bail from February 7, 1920 to April 25, 1921 due to a court of appeals ruling that Fletcher had not violated the Espionage Act. His fine was lowered to 20,000 but the Supreme court declined to review the case. Fletcher was out of prison on bail for nearly 15 months. A defense fund was established which contributed to sustaining Fletcher’s wife. For instance, Ben Fletcher’s wife received $10.00 per week to help care for their children a young step-daughter and son.95
Chandler Owen and A. Phillip Randolph, editors of The Messenger magazine took up the cause to free Fletcher.
Ben Fletcher continued to call for workers solidarity. In an article in the The Messenger magazine he stated:
The class struggle has, at last, driven the proletarians to see that education, organization and agitation must go hand in hand and that not until the workers have achieved a working class solidarity based upon scientific knowledge, will they seriously struggle for emancipation. This, of course, does not mean that each worker must be a political economist, but it does mean that the workers must understand the nature of the class organization of society; they must realize what a menace to the interests of the workers, divisions upon race, religion, color, sex, nationality and trade constitute.96
Because of the bottom up approach of having a democratic rank and file inclusive union based on ethnic diversity Local 8 produced many leaders, rather than one or two.
Hence a second cadre of leaders, black and white, stepped into the void created by the arrest and imprisonment of local 8’s top leaders. Black members such as Charles Carter, Williams “Dan” Jones, Glenn Perrymore, Alonzo Richards, Ernest Varlack, Joseph Weitzen, and Amos White, took leadership notes in the organization97
While in prison the Wobblies read, taught each other and corresponded with activists. Fletcher kept in touch with African American socialists and Wobblies such as R. T. Sims who had organized janitors in Chicago and A. Phillip Randolph and Chandler Owen in New York.
In 1922, fifty congressmen asked President Harding to grant freedom to the jailed Wobblies. Personal letters and petitions were sent to the Justice Department on behalf of Fletcher in December 1921 and throughout most of 1922. the House Judiciary committee held a public hearings on the subject of amnesty of political prisoners in March 1922. Frances T. Kane, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1913 to 1920, stated that the IWW had not engaged in sabotage. He said that the men were not guilty of war crimes and should be granted executive clemency. A similar review was forward by the justice Department’s Philadelphia Division head Todd Daniel. In June 1922, Pardon Attorney James A. Finch told Warden W. I. Biddle of Leavenworth that the Justice Department was considering recommending executive clemency for Fletcher, Nef. Doree and Walsh.
In October, 1922, President Harding announced that Fletcher and others would be released on the condition they stay out of trouble.
Fletcher and the others were not permitted to leave Leavenworth until they signed a receipt for the warrant commuting.98
Being given a conditional pardon seriously hindered Fletcher’s leadership role in the union even though he continued activity. Upon his return to Philadelphia Ben Fletcher continued in the IWW’s weekly series of open forums. In June 1920, thousands of Philadelphia longshoremen decided to strike for the eight hour day. The strike grew to almost 10,000 waterfront workers and was the largest strike in the history of the port of Philadelphia. The strike was not successful but after the month it ended without local 8 collapsing.
Sectarian ultra left control politics began to lead to local 8’s decline and demise. In what became known as the “Philadelphia Controversy” was the result of a vicious power struggle that greatly harmed the American left; the IWW/Communist Party (CP) conflict.
The Ultimate IWW rejection of Bolshevik overtures (and Lenin’s decision to focus on capturing the mainstream American Federation of Labor) resulted in a fierce split between these two competing left-wing organization. As a result, Communists in the U. S. sought to destroy the IWW beginning with its most powerful branch, Local 8.99
Several in the Leadership of IWW in Chicago were leaning to join the Communist Party (USA). As a result Local 8 was to join the communist Party (USA). As a result Local 8 was suspended twice, in the summer and fall of 1920; under false charges for allegedly loading ammunition for anti-Soviet forces in the Russian Civil War and then for violating the IWW constitution by charging initiation fees. Local 8 was not reinstated in the IWW until 1921.
Local 8 with more than 4,000 members in October 1922 tried again to achieve the eight-hour day. But the climate of the country had changed since 1913 and the bosses knew it. The city’s waterfront employers locked out the longshoremen. This plus “The Philadelphia Controversy” helped the rival IIA sign up hundreds of longshoremen who likely would scab in the event of an IWW strike or employer lockout. Ben Fletcher, Walter Nef, and Jack Wash sentences were commuted on October 31, 1922 . Local 8’s interracial solidarity broke down because of several factors. As a result of the Red Summer of 1919, with whites attacking African American communities and African American fighting back, race relations across the nation were deteriorating as there was a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan at the same time there was a rise of narrow reactionary nationalism among African Americans represented with the rise of Marcus Garvey’s black nationalist “back to Africa” movement. The Philadelphia city waterfront employers actively worked to split the longshoremen along racial lines by hiring African American replacements; a practice American employers had used regularly which worked until the 1930’s. Local 8 began to split along racial lines with the African American majority losing faith in the union and wanting to return to work.
Fletcher was not an active participant during the lockout. With Fletcher under a conditional pardon he declined to address the workers when he came to Local 8’s hall. Fletcher also felt that the IWW leaders were under Communist party influence and he did not want to have his pardon revoked, especially not having back up from the national office. Fletcher would later blame Local 8’s disastrous 1922 lockout on communists, who he labeled “disrupters”.
African American dock workers in particular, stayed away from the IWW and after the fall of 1922, Local 8 no longer commanded the allegiance of most of Philadelphia’s longshoremen. In 1923 William “Dan” Jones, an African American Longshoreman, founding member of Local 8 and former secretary of the union and Ben Fletcher led a group of Wobbly longshoremen out of the MTW and formed the independent Philadelphia Longshoremen’s Union the (PLU).
Fletcher complained about the universal transfer system of the IWW, that allowed Wobbies from other locales to come to the Philadelphia waterfront and be eligible for work without paying the “proper” assessments.
Fletcher continued to speak for the IWW but his base, Local 8 had withered almost away. Though he was a charismatic working class leader, whom the communist party feared; he was curtailed in his speaking engagements.
In December 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a full pardon to the ISO IWW political prisoners including Ben Fletcher. Fletcher had a stroke on January 21, 1933. With his health failing Fletcher spoke less and limited his union activities. Fletcher had a heart attack in 1945. Fletcher died at his home in Brooklyn on July 10, 1949. Ben Fletcher was a fearless leader of the working class. The union he led was the most successful interracial local of its time and what he achieved on the Philadelphia waterfront in the 1910s has yet to be surpassed. Though he did not receive the fame of a Big Bill Haywood or an A. Phillip Randolph, his contribution to both labor and African American history was monumental and should be remembered.
Rough Timeline from 1890’s to 1929

Mississippi Plan: disenfranchised African Americans. Democrats control the state. Southern states follow suit.

-Policies of Poll Tax, Property Tax, Literacy Tests used.

-Sharecropping – Tenant farming – rent the land and pay the landlord for use of the land became debt peonage.

-Convict lease system.

Liberal Arts Colleges: Howard University, Fisk University, Atlanta University, Shaw University, Wilberforce University grow but get less resources because they are Liberal Arts colleges as opposed to Industrial Education.

Colombian Exposition: in Chicago, earned the city name “White City” for excluding African American participation


Ida B. Wells Barnett published “The Red Record”, an account of three years of lynching.

Booker T. Washington gave his in famous “Atlanta Compromise” speech at the Atlanta Exposition
Between 1890 and 1910 the number of African American men in Agriculture increased by over half a million or 31%. During the period, three out of five African American men were employed in agriculture 1890 to World War I.
During this era monopoly capitalism grew so rapidly that by 1909 one-half of the manufacturers were by 1% of the firms and U.S. investments abroad in 1914 were five times what they had been in 1897. By 1900, Wall Street capitalists with a billion dollars invested in the South, dominated not only the economy of the area but also its political life.
Death of Frederick Douglas
The first National Conference of Colored Women convened
Josephine Pierre Ruffin; National Federation of Afro-American Women founded with Mary Margaret Washington as president

Plessy V. Ferguson

U. S. Supreme court upholds “Separate but Equal”
National Association of Colored Women formed from several groups with Mary Church Terrell as president in Washington D. C.

Booker T. Washington formed the National Negro Business League.

In over 20 cities across the South from 1901 to 1907, African Americans boycott street car companies that segregated their cars. In some cities the boycotts forced street car companies into bankruptcy. In other cities, African Americans formed their own transit companies.
First Pan-conference – DuBois, Secretary

William Monroe Trotter founder of the Boston Guardian where he attacked Booker T. Washington.

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