restricted access 3. The National Urban League: Reinventing Service for the Twenty-first Century
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40 Jennifer A. Wade and Brian N. Williams y 40 The National Urban League (NUL) defines itself “as the premier social service and civil rights organization in America.”1 Headquartered in New York City, this nonprofit, community-based agency has an organizational structure of over one hundred affiliates in thirty-four states and the District of Columbia and is known for its signature programs in the areas of employment, job training, housing, youth services, education, and social welfare. Current scholarly literature reveals little attention to the contributions made by this organization , its leadership, and its affiliates during the post–Civil Rights era. The following chapter provides a normative examination of the goals and strategies of the National Urban League since the end of the Civil Rights movement and of the ways in which the organization attempts to cultivate its mission in order to remain relevant and address the needs of its constituency. Additionally , the chapter addresses key organizational concerns and problems that may threaten the National Urban League’s efforts to remain a viable organization well into the twenty-first century. The League’s Mission Unlike more protest-oriented groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the “true nature” of the National Urban League and its affiliates is one of direct action through social services. Since its inception in 1910, the leadership has emphasized the League’s mission as a way to distinguish it from other “civil rights” organizations. Three Jennifer A. Wade and Brian N. Williams The National Urban League Reinventing Service for the Twenty-first Century The National Urban League 41 In fact, the current president and chief executive officer of the NUL, Hugh B. Price, has begun the process of modernizing the League’s mission statement for the twenty-first century, asserting the importance of shaping the mission according to what the League “concentrates on most of the time and [is] best at, instead of continually being known as the second oldest and second largest civil rights organization after the NAACP.” “In truth, we aren’t a civil rights organization,” Price explains. “That isn’t what we do [twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week] and the new mission statement makes that clear:”2 “The mission of the Urban League movement is to enable African-Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity and power and civil rights. The Urban League movement carries out its mission at the local, state and national levels through direct services, advocacy, research, policy analysis, community mobilization , collaboration and communications.”3 This chapter will discuss the Urban League’s evolution from an organization founded to provide direct social services to one with an expanded mission of extending civil rights and economic power. It will include a historical analysis and a discussion of Urban League leadership and internal organization. The Founding of the National Urban League Guichard Parris and Lester Brooks write that more than 90 percent of all African Americans lived in the rural South until 1900. Over the next tenyear period more than one-fifth of southern African Americans, fleeing the South’s discriminatory laws, migrated to the northern cities of New York, Philadelphia , and Baltimore and the midwestern cities of Columbus, Cincinnati, and Chicago in search of a better life. Their hope of finding new opportunities was met with the harsh reality, however, that without marketable skills it would be impossible to have a better life. This reality was especially difficult for many African American women, some of whom eventually turned to prostitution or other illicit means in an effort to provide for their families. After the turn of the twentieth century, life for African Americans became even more arduous, for they found themselves living in restricted areas that were populated with saloons, brothels, and gambling places. In cities such as Philadelphia and Harlem it was not uncommon to find African American populations estimated at close to thirty-five thousand crammed into eighteen city blocks. With the arrival of European immigrants to the United States, employment opportunities for African Americans became extremely limited. Soon many found themselves expelled from the job market because employers preferred to hire White male immigrants. This placed further pressure upon the African American female to work harder. In fact, by 1905, 59 percent of all African American women in New York City were employed (mostly as domestics), 42 Jennifer A. Wade and Brian N. Williams y compared to 27 percent of...


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