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National Negro Business League: Fighting Jim Crow with Economic Development

During the Progressive Era African-Americans were faced with severe forms of racism. Segregation in public places, lynching, being barred from the political process, limited healthcare, education and housing options left African-Americans disenfranchised from American Society.

African-American reformists developed various tactics to help fight against racism and discrimination that was present in United States’ society.

Despite the presence of Jim Crow Era laws and politics, African-Americans attempted to reach prosperity by becoming educated and establishing businesses.  

 Men such as William Monroe Trotter and W.E.B. Du Bois believed that militant tactics such as using the media to expose racism and public protests. Others, such as Booker T. Washington, sought another approach. Washington believed in accommodation--that the way to end racism was through economic development; not through politics or civil unrest.

What is the National Negro Business League?

In 1900, Booker T. Washington established the National Negro Business League in Boston. The purpose of the organization was to “promote the commercial and financial development of the Negro.” Washington established the group because he believed that the key to ending racism in the United States was through economic development. He also believed that economic development would allow African-Americans to become upwardly mobile.

He believed that once African-Americans had achieved economic independence, they would be able to petition successfully for voting rights and an end to segregation.

In Washington’s last address to the League, he said, “at the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion itself there must be for our race, as for all races an economic foundation, economic prosperity, economic independence.”

The League included African-American businessmen and businesswomen working in agriculture, craftsmanship, insurance; professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and educators. Middle-class men and women interested in

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