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Niagara Movement to be celebrated in Harpers Ferry

August 13, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - W.E.B. Du Bois. J.R. Clifford. William Monroe Trotter.

These are not household names like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Ralph Abernathy, but they were significant contributors to the nation's civil rights movement in the early 20th century.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the first meeting on U.S. soil of the Niagara Movement - the precursor to the NAACP - in Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Jefferson County, W.Va., branch of the NAACP and the Harpers Ferry Historical Association are celebrating the Niagara Movement Centennial with an academic symposium that starts Wednesday, and four days of entertainment and educational activities starting Thursday.

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Du Bois, Clifford and Trotter were among the founders of the Niagara Movement, which issued demands for equal rights for blacks.

This was occurring at a time when the most famous black man in the nation, Booker T. Washington, was willing to compromise with separate but equal, according to park service historical accounts and David Levering Lewis, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of Du Bois.

Du Bois and other Niagara Movement leaders were considered radicals, said Todd Bolton, the National Park Service's project director for the centennial celebration.

"These men and women of the Niagara Movement were true leaders, heroes in their communities," Bolton said. Today, most people can't name a half a dozen people in the movement, "Because those people have been lost to history," he said.

The centennial anniversary of the movement provides an opportunity to educate people about this part of history.

"Education translates into appreciation," Bolton said. "That's what we're hoping to do - let people understand where a lot of things we understand and learned in our lifetimes started."

With funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a K-12 curriculum-based guide focusing on the Niagara Movement will be sent to every public school system in West Virginia and to other school systems, including those in Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland, Bolton said.

Several dignitaries are expected to attend and participate in the commemoration, including Lewis; Juanita Abernathy, widow of civil rights leader the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy; and Hall of Fame baseball player Monte Irvin.

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