In 1909, W. E. B. Du Bois and several other activists, frustrated by setbacks to the civil rights movement such as Plessy v. Ferguson, founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP, whose leadership and membership consisted of both blacks and whites, published a monthly journal called Crisis and worked diligently to gain more legal and political rights for blacks.
Black women, meanwhile, formed their own associations geared toward providing social services and community support. The National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, for example, worked to improve the lives of urban black women by building settlement houses, promoting public health initiatives, and providing child-care services for working mothers.
The prospect of new jobs in the war industries encouraged as many as half a million black tenant farmers in the South to move to cities in the North during and after World War I. The Great Migration, as it came to be called, had a profound effect on blacks’ lives and on the cities in which they resettled, as millions of white Americans began leaving for the suburbs. Furthermore, the invention of the mechanical cotton picker in the 1940s made southern agricultural jobs scarcer and spurred more than a million additional blacks to leave the South. As more and more blacks moved to northern cities, more people became aware of the enormous economic inequalities that separated blacks from whites.
Nowhere were the effects of the Great Migration clearer than in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, where as many as 200,000 blacks settled between World War I and World War II. Harlem quickly became one of the largest black communities in the world outside Africa. Although most of the blacks who moved to Harlem lived in poverty, a sizable group of middle-class blacks helped lead the so-called Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
During this Harlem Renaissance, W. E. B. Du Bois’s “black consciousness” took root among black artists and intellectuals, who began to recognize, develop, and appreciate a distinctive black cultural identity. Black writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes expressed their immense pride in the creation of the “New Negro.” As black essayist James Weldon Johnson put it, “Nothing can go further to destroy race prejudice than the recognition of the Negro as a creator and contributor to American civilization.”
No single individual contributed more to the development of black pride during this period than Marcus Garvey. Garvey, who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica in 1914, moved to the United States in 1916. He settled in Harlem and established the U.S. branch of the UNIA to help blacks achieve economic independence in the United States and unite black communities around the world. He organized parades and massive rallies to boost black pride and encouraged black-owned companies to do more business within the community. On the other hand, the UNIA also encouraged blacks to leave the United States and resettle in their ancestral homes in Africa.