Beginnings–T. Thomas Fortune’s Afro-American League and Forward

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T. Thomas Fortune
T. Thomas Fortune

Writer and activist T. Thomas Fortune founded the Afro-American League in 1890 as the first national Civil Rights Organization.  Unfortunately, lack of a paid staff and ample funding limited its success, but in 1910, the National Association for the Advancement of African Americans organized,  The founders were mostly white except for Dr. W. E. B. DuBois.  During the next 50 years it would be the main Civil Rights organization. Oddly, most people are unaware of the struggle between the NAACP and the Jim Crow South from 1910 to 1954. For many, it seems as though the Civil Rights Movement came out of nowhere during the period between the Brown decision and Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

During our spring term Freedom Ride class we will focus most heavily on events from 1944 through 1965.  On July 16, 1944, Irene Morgan boarded a Greyhound bus in Hayes, Virginia to return to her home in Baltimore.  She had been visiting her mother and had just suffered a miscarriage. Morgan took her seat in the rear of the bus (the black section) where she sat next to another black woman. The bus filled up with white passengers and the driver ordered black passengers to relinquish their seats.  Morgan remained seated. In 1946, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Morgan v. Virginia struck down racial segregation in interstate transportation. In 1947, Bayard Rustin led a “freedom ride” called the Journey of Reconciliation in order to test the new laws. The outcome was not favorable.  Southern states generally ignored the court’s ruling.