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Image of son holding father's hand with the words "His Future is in your hands. Get his school together."
His Future is in Your Hands. Get His School Together. David Chalk

The Great Migration, the Urban League, and Its Role in Supporting the African American Community

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During the Great Migration of African Americans to cities in the northern United States, the National Urban League supported people by developing both programs to ease the transition to life in urban centers and partnerships with government and private industry to help African Americans achieve financial and social success in their communities. Primary sources in the Library’s online collections provide opportunities for students to explore moments in the League’s history.

The origins of the National Urban League can be found in the minutes of the first meeting of the Committee on Urban Conditions among Negroes. The group agreed that this committee would do a survey of the prevailing conditions, coordinate work being done, and establish agencies and other support services to supply African Americans arriving in urban areas with needed resources.

One of the founders of the Committee on Urban Conditions among Negroes was George E. Haynes, a social scientist working on his doctorate at Columbia. Seeing the need for programs to help African Americans take advantages of opportunities in the cities where they had moved, he worked with labor organizations and the federal government to help African Americans get jobs in the cities.

Image of Dr. George Haynes
Dr. George Haynes image from the St. Paul Recorder, January 1, 1937

Eventually the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes merged with two other organizations that were working to support African Americans who were starting new lives in the cities of the north. This new organization, now known as the National Urban League, had as its primary goal to promote the improvement of industrial, economic, social, and spiritual conditions among Negroes in cites.

George Haynes, the first director of the National Urban League, led the charge to help those who migrated north to find success in the cities, including offering courses in reading and writing, providing child care for workers, and encouraging league members throughout the country to contact local and state governments and private businesses to encourage the hiring of African Americans.

During the 1930s and ’40s the National Urban League continued working to improve opportunities for housing and employment for African Americans, with a special focus on those returning after World War II. They also worked to encourage the development of federal policies in the areas of housing, health and welfare.

Article from 50th Anniversary supplement on the importance of the National Urban League
Your Vital Stake in the Urban League. Minneapolis Spokesman, April 22, 1960

At the time of its 50th anniversary, the National Urban League sent a supplement to 42 African American newspapers around the country. Some of the newspapers also added articles and editorials about the National Urban League and their work within the community. An editorial published by the Arizona Tribune noted that during the Great Migration the Urban League played a major role in supporting families moving to the north by helping them to find food, housing, and jobs in their new communities. Noting the League’s decision to expand its works and do more in the area of social research, the editorial expressed concern about the movement of the Urban League in this direction.

Ask students to consider how having research on the lives and experiences of the people in the communities they serve might help the National Urban League with their work.

Allow time for students to read the editorial published by the Arizona Tribune. Ask them: What are the writer’s objections to the 50th anniversary supplement? Do you agree?

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