Niagara Gazette — No one was prepared to see what lay ahead on pages eight and nine; the sad picture of Emmett’s parents as they stood next to the body of their son, savagely beaten, shot in the head, mutilated beyond belief. According to the Jet story, “more than 600,000, in an unending procession later viewed the body, his mother wanting, “all the world” to witness the atrocity.”
We were changing as a country, so too were Tommy and I; my attention was shifting away from our childhood fascinations with bugs and space travel, and more toward my relationship with history and the future. I began to ask more questions, sought more answers, and along the way, I discovered Niagara Falls’ unique role in the continuum.
In her best seller, “The New Jim Crow”, author, attorney Michelle Alexander writes, “Between autumn 1961 and the spring of 1963, 20,000 men, women and children had been arrested; in 1963 alone, another 15,000 had been imprisoned.”
The dramatic high-point of the Civil Rights Movement occurred in 1963.
The southern struggle had grown from a modest group of black students demonstrating peacefully at one lunch counter to the largest mass movement for racial reform and civil rights in the 20th century” and I was being willingly swept up in it.
But, as I soon discovered, Niagara Falls, more than 100 years earlier, had already set its course in the campaign for equal rights.
Many of the local black hotel waiters, cooks, chambermaids and others who participated in well documented Underground Railroad activities, including the celebrated Harriet Tubman had been here long before the Civil War, and along with white abolitionists, were deeply engaged in the efforts to free as many as they could, helping some who were being pursued under the Fugitive Slave Laws to escape capture by fleeing into Canada.
By July, 1905, at a series of meetings held right here in the region W.E.B. Dubois and William Monroe Trotter led a group they named the Niagara Movement in a call in opposition to the rampant lynching, racial segregation and disenfranchisement of people of color, setting forth a Manifesto which became the basis for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP.