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An Army of Lions

The Civil Rights Struggle Before the NAACP

Shawn Leigh Alexander

Publication Year: 2011

"An Army of Lions is a stunning and heroic work of research about one of the great 'origins' stories of American history. With remarkable originality, Alexander illuminates the grassroots civil rights organizations, leadership, and strategies in the nineteenth century, well before we typically think about those efforts. In the hands of this very talented historian, we see that T. Thomas Fortune and others struggled with the same questions that occupied the later generations of Du Bois and King. This is a scholarly achievement of the first order, with wide social and political implications today."--David W. Blight, author of American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era "With impressive detail, An Army of Lions documents a complex era in African American politics during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Alexander offers readers invaluable insights into how African American activists responded to the rising violence, disfranchisement, and segregation that characterized the Jim Crow era. Most importantly, he helps us to see how a broad range of early civil rights organizations were vying with one another for national leadership, political access, and mass support."--Martha S. Jones, University of Michigan In January 1890, journalist T. Thomas Fortune stood before a delegation of African American activists in Chicago and declared, "We know our rights and have the courage to defend them," as together they formed the Afro-American League, the nation's first national civil rights organization. Over the next two decades, Fortune and his fellow activists organized, agitated, and, in the process, created the foundation for the modern civil rights movement. An Army of Lions: The Civil Rights Struggle Before the NAACP traces the history of this first generation of activists and the organizations they formed to give the most comprehensive account of black America's struggle for civil rights from the end of Reconstruction to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Here a host of leaders neglected by posterity--Bishop Alexander Walters, Mary Church Terrell, Jesse Lawson, Lewis G. Jordan, Kelly Miller, George H. White, Frederick McGhee, Archibald Grimké--worked alongside the more familiar figures of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington, who are viewed through a fresh lens. As Jim Crow curtailed modes of political protest and legal redress, members of the Afro-American League and the organizations that formed in its wake--including the Afro-American Council, the Niagara Movement, the Constitution League, and the Committee of Twelve--used propaganda, moral suasion, boycotts, lobbying, electoral office, and the courts, as well as the call for self-defense, to end disfranchisement, segregation, and racial violence. In the process, the League and the organizations it spawned provided the ideological and strategic blueprint of the NAACP and the struggle for civil rights in the twentieth century, demonstrating that there was significant and effective agitation during "the age of accommodation." Shawn Leigh Alexander teaches African and African American studies at the University of Kansas.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Politics and Culture in Modern America

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv

Table of Contents

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xviii

“Th e Negro must organize,” wrote Brooklyn- based African American lawyer T. McCants Stewart in 1889. “He must be peaceable, but if . . . forced to fight,” argued Stewart, invoking two famous Civil War battles involving African American Union troops, “he must do so with the same pluck, energy...

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Chapter 1. Aceldama and the Black Response

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pp. 1-22

Racial tensions in Danville, Virginia, a town of eight thousand with a slight black majority, were on the rise during the state election of 1883. Early in the campaign, several newspapers ran an editorial cartoon depicting white school children being paddled by an African American schoolmaster.1 The cartoon...

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Chapter 2. “Stand Their Ground on This Civil Rights Business”

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pp. 23-65

A few weeks after T. Thomas Fortune’s strong rejoinder to Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady, the Afro- American agitator’s quest to create a national civil rights organization finally came to fruition. The importance of the founding meeting, as Fortune noted, could neither have been easily estimated nor come...

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Chapter 3. Interregnum and Resurrection

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pp. 66-97

While the Afro- American League collapsed on the national stage the reasons for its existence— the spread of disfranchisement, segregation, and racial violence— did not disappear. In fact, during the 1890s, the social and po liti cal forces that created the need for the Afro- American League actually...

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Chapter 4. Not Just “A Bubble in Soap Water" (photo plates at end of chapter)

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pp. 98-134

According to the editor of the Richmond Planet, John Mitchell, Jr., the conclusion of the Afro- American Council’s first national convention marked the “beginning of a new era.” 1 Most involved with the convention and those who read of the proceedings in the nation’s black newspapers concurred...

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Chapter 5. To Awaken the Conscience of America

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pp. 135-176

As the twentieth century dawned, African Americans found themselves in a precarious situation. Throughout the country, black civil and political rights were being violated systematically while white vigilantes murdered roughly a hundred individuals annually. This growing system of Jim Crow and...

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Chapter 6. Invasion of the Tuskegee Machine

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pp. 177-219

Surpassing the lifespan of its predecessor, the Afro- American Council entered its fourth year of existence in 1902. The organization had successfully instituted national and local suits aimed at protecting the rights of African Americans, but as with the Afro- American League, it struggled for financial...

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Chapter 7. An Army of Mice or an Army of Lions?

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pp. 220-261

Members of the Afro- American Council were determined that the tempests of 1903 would not become the hurricane of 1904. Despite the fact that the organization had been successful in instituting national and local suits aimed at protecting the rights of African Americans, the failure to achieve quick or...

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Chapter 8. “It Is Strike Now or Never”

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pp. 262-296

Building on the momentum of the final months of 1905, the Afro- American Council entered 1906 full of energy and primed to have a successful year. The Constitution League and the Niagara Movement also entered the New Year focused and ready to organize. Such determination and concentration was...

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pp. 297-300

Immediately following T. Thomas Fortune’s death in 1928, the Amsterdam News published an extensive obituary praising the fiery journalist and civil rights activist for his long career and tireless devotion to the race, social uplift, and equal rights. The tribute to his life and work acknowledged his pioneering...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 301


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pp. 303-374


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pp. 375-379


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pp. 380-382

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205725
E-ISBN-10: 0812205723
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243758
Print-ISBN-10: 0812243757

Page Count: 350
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: Revised
Series Title: Politics and Culture in Modern America