From the Web site of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History:
The need for economic development has been a central element of black life. After centuries of
unrequited toil as slaves, African Americans gained their freedom and found themselves in the
struggle to make a living. The chains were gone, but racism was everywhere. Black codes often
prevented blacks from owning land in towns and cities, and in the countryside they were often
denied the opportunity to purchase land. Organized labor shut their doors to their brethren, and
even the white philanthropist who funded black schools denied them employment opportunities
once educated. In the South, whites sought to insure that blacks would only be sharecroppers
and day labors, and in the North whites sought to keep them as unskilled labor.
Pushing against the odds, African Americans became landowners, skilled workers, small
businessmen and women, professionals, and ministers. In the Jim Crow economy, they started
insurance companies, vocational schools, teachers colleges, cosmetic firms, banks,
newspapers, and hospitals. To fight exclusion from the economy, they started their own unions
and professional associations. In an age in which individuals proved unable to counter
industrialization alone, they preached racial or collective uplift rather than individual self-reliance.
The late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed an unprecedented degree of racial
solidarity and organization.
In 1910, a group of dedicated reformers, black and white, gathered to create an organization to
address the needs of African Americans as they migrated to the cities of the United States. The
organization that they created a century ago became we all know as the National Urban League.
For a century, they have struggled to open the doors of opportunity for successive generations,
engaging the challenges of each age. ASALH celebrates the centennial of the National Urban
League by exploring racial uplift and black economic development in the twentieth century.