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National Negro Council of Women

Overview

Mary McLeod Bethune established the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) on December 5, 1935.  With the support of several African-American women’s organizations, the NCNW’s mission was to unify African-American women to improve race relations in the United States and abroad.

Background

Despite strides made by African-American artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, W.E.B. Du Bois’ vision of an end to racism was not during the 1920s.

As Americans—especially African-Americans--suffered during the Great Depression, Bethune began to think that a unified group of organizations could lobby effectively for an end to segregation and discrimination. Activist Mary Church Terrell suggested that Bethune form a council to help in these efforts. And the NCNW, “a national organization of national organizations” was established. With a vision of “Unity of Purpose and a Unity of Action,” Bethune efficiently organized a group of independent organizations to improve the lives of African-American women.

The Great Depression: Finding Resources and Advocacy

From the outset, NCNW officials focused on creating relationships with other organizations and federal agencies. NCNW began sponsoring educational programs. In 1938, the NCNW held the White House Conference on Governmental Cooperation in the Approach to the Problems of Negro Women and Children.

Through this conference, the NCNW was able to lobby for more African-American women to hold upper-level government administrative positions.

World War II: Desegregating the Military

During World War II, the NCNW joined forces with other civil rights organizations such as the NAACP to lobby for the desegregation of the U.S. Army.

The group also worked to help women internationally. In 1941, the NCNW became a member of the U.S. War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations. Working in the Women’s Interest Section, the organization campaigned for African-American to serve in the U.S. Army.

The lobbying efforts paid off. Within one year, The Women’s Army Corps (WAC ) began

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