“there is in this world no such forces as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained”. W.E.B. Du Bois
A double entendre…The Niagara Movement was a civil rights group organized by W.E.B. Du Bois & William Monroe Trotter in 1905. The name was created because of the location of the initial meeting and the “mighty current of protest these 29 men wished to unleash.” The Niagara Movement drafted a “Declaration of Principles,” part of which stated: “We refuse to allow the impression to remain that the Negro-American assents to inferiority, is submissive under oppression and apologetic before insults.” Du Bois declared “we want full manhood suffrage and we want it now- we are men and we want to be treated as men and we shall win!” The 29 men were denied accommodations at hotels in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, NY, by racially prejudiced hotel managers, so they went to Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada for their initial meeting. They wished to harness the power of Niagara in a different type of way. The Niagara Movement renounced Booker T. Washington’s policy of accommodation and conciliation, and his refusal to speak out on behalf of Black rights. The group issued a manifesto that demanded the rights of Black people to vote, to not be segregated in public transportation or discriminated against elsewhere, and to enjoy all those liberties white citizens enjoyed. The Niagara Movement fell apart in 1909 following the Springfield Race Riot of 1908 in Illinois. Symbolically important because it was in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, Black and white activists, including members of the Niagara Movement, felt a new, more powerful interracial organization was now needed to combat racism. In New York City in 1909, a conference laid the foundation for the NAACP which was formally established in 1910. Du Bois was appointed the NAACP’s director of publications. The NAACP went on to become the leading African-American civil rights organization of the 20th century.
In this mural, Du Bois has harnessed and embodied the power of Niagara. He went against the current, and the past rides through him. Du Bois exists as a stalwart, a rock standing against the forces. He encourages movement in a different direction with the power and energy of Niagara Falls flowing over his shoulder. W.E.B. Du Bois is calm, introspective, and confident; thoughtfully contemplative. The train of the Underground Railroad courses through his mind, suspended on a bridge on its way to freedom. The North Star, a sentinel, stoically guides the way. In the background, the dawn of a new day bathes the scene in vivid vibrant color.