The Rise and Fall of the National Afro-American Council
Publication Year: 2008
Broken Brotherhood: The Rise and Fall of the National Afro-American Council gives a comprehensive account of the National Afro-American Council, the first truly nationwide U.S. civil rights organization, which existed from 1898 to 1908. Based on exhaustive research, the volume chronicles the Council’s achievements and its annual meetings and provides portraits of its key leaders.
Led by four of the most notable African American leaders of the time—journalist T. Thomas Fortune, Bishop Alexander Walters, educator Booker T. Washington, and Congressman George Henry White—the Council persevered for a decade despite structural flaws and external pressures that eventually led to its demise in 1908.
Author Benjamin R. Justesen provides historical context for the Council’s development during an era of unprecedented growth in African American organizations. Justesen establishes the National Afro-American Council as the earliest national arena for discussions of critical social and political issues affecting African Americans and the single most important united voice lobbying for protection of the nation’s largest minority. In a period marked by racial segregation, widespread disfranchisement, and lynching violence, the nonpartisan council helped establish two more enduring successor organizations, providing core leadership for both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League.
Broken Brotherhood traces the history of the Council and the complicated relationships among key leaders from its creation in Rochester in 1898 to its last gathering in Baltimore in 1907, drawing on both private correspondence and contemporary journalism to create a balanced historical portrait. Enhanced by thirteen illustrations, the volume also provides intriguing details about the ten national gatherings, describes the Council’s unsuccessful attempt to challenge disfranchisement before the U.S. Supreme Court, and sheds light on the gradual breakdown of Republican solidarity among African American leaders in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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I first became interested in the National Afro-American Council in the late 1990s, while writing a biography of North Carolina congressman George Henry White, an unsuccessful early aspirant to the group’s presidency. As with other aspects of White’s life, I found clues to the Council’s origins and activities but little documented evidence of its activities or prominence. ...
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Completing this book would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of Cherie Lohr-Murphy, Susan Amussen, Peggy Heller, and John Churchville at the Union Institute and University, Cincinnati; Professor Edna Greene Medford of Howard University; and Robert Chadwell Williams, professor emeritus at Davidson College. ...
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Introduction: The Four Titans
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Their backgrounds were remarkably similar: four African American men born in southern slaveholding states in the decade before the Civil War, each privately educated by determined parents, each achieving manhood during the period of Reconstruction and realizing professional distinction in the decades after. ...
1. Resurrecting the League: Rochester, 1898
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Once a hotbed of abolitionism, Rochester had sent many of its sons to battle against the hated institution of slavery during the Civil War. New York’s third-largest city was thus a fitting site for a monument to Frederick Douglass, great and lamented leader of his race, who had lived there for twenty-five years and was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. ...
2. The Black Judases: Washington, D.C., 1898
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Rochester had provided an unexpected opportunity for Alexander Walters to demonstrate his leadership skills on a broader stage. No national organization comparable to the new Council had ever survived for long; most had collapsed within months or years, victims of internal difficulties, both administrative and financial, or external pressures. ...
3. All Eyes on McKinley: Chicago, 1899
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In some ways, the initial relationship between the Council and President McKinley resembled a failed courtship, marked by unrealistic expectations on both sides and more by abiding affection than by real passion. If so, the Council’s delicate romance with McKinley, over by the spring of 1899, had been unsatisfyingly brief for both. ...
4. Playing at Presidential Politics: Indianapolis, 1900
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Given the Council’s recent history, it was almost inevitable that its nonpartisan pledge would be sorely tested during a presidential election year. As leaders prepared for the late summer session in Indianapolis—scheduled after national nominating conventions, and just ten weeks before the general election—the Council could not expect to avoid the spotlight, ...
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5. Nowhere Else to Turn: Philadelphia, 1901
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Two days after William McKinley’s second inauguration, a determined Council delegation appeared in the president’s parlor to pay its respects and seek assistance on matters of continuing concern to the race: treatment of black southerners, including disfranchisement and violence against them, and recognition of black soldiers during the U.S. Army’s reorganization. ...
6. Fortune at the Helm: Saint Paul, 1902
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Ordinarily, Council leaders paid a New Year’s courtesy call on the White House, respectfully reminding the president of their loyalty, their influence, and their pressing issues for the year ahead. But with McKinley’s death still fresh in their minds, Walters and his court held back in January 1902. ...
7. Dueling Portraits: Louisville, 1903
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The struggle for control of the Council had seemingly resolved itself in Saint Paul, but only for a moment. As the winter of 1903 unfolded, the old struggle entered a new, more intricate phase, with old players jockeying for position and new players waiting for strategic opportunities. Tim Fortune’s absence from the scene was both a blessing and a curse for Council leaders and aspirants alike. ...
8. Enduring the Interregnum: Saint Louis, 1904
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The Carnegie Hall conference called by Booker T. Washington in January 1904 was to be a private brainstorming session for prominent Afro-American leaders, where issues might be discussed discreetly and solutions proposed to problems involving race. Washington had begun planning for it nearly a year earlier, ...
9. Walters Redux: Detroit, 1905
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Steward’s lethargy was tonic to Alexander Walters, who stepped up his campaign to reclaim Council leadership as 1904 drew to a close. His December speech before a mixed-race audience in North Carolina was followed by an informal conference of black leaders in Washington, where he embraced an emerging viewpoint on disfranchisement: ...
10. Competing with Niagara: New York City, 1906
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Until 1905, the Council had faced only minor opposition from poorly organized malcontents, like Trotter. The Niagara Movement, which many believed had spurred Walters to his successful return in Detroit, was an entirely different creature: spirited, seemingly united, and unpredictable. Former Council leaders had defected in small but unprecedented numbers ...
11. Farewell to the Wizard: Baltimore, 1907
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Reverberations from Brownsville continued to dominate the civil rights agenda across the United States as leaders from the Council and the Niagara Movement gathered in Washington in mid-January, joined by interested observers. There they all hoped to hear a report from Council legal bureau director J. Douglas Wetmore, ...
Epilogue: Slouching toward Columbus
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In his seminal biography of William Monroe Trotter, author Stephen Fox pays only limited attention to the National Afro-American Council and its longtime leader, Alexander Walters. Fox’s oversight is understandable, since neither the group nor the man played a significant role in Trotter’s life, ...
Appendix: National Afro-American Council Constitution
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Author Bio, Back Cover
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Benjamin R. Justesen is a freelance writer and editor. A former U.S. Foreign Service officer, he is a Ph.D. candidate in interdisciplinary studies at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. He is the author of numerous journal articles and two previous books, ...
Page Count: 276
Publication Year: 2008