By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor

On August 13, the National Urban League released its 2020 State of Black America report, the 44th edition of the civil rights organization’s analysis of the plight of the Black community. In the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 165,000 Americans, with a disproportionate number being people of color, and a racial reckoning centuries in the making, the state of Black America is a perilous state.

The National Urban League has fought for social justice and the civil rights of Black Americans and other disenfranchised groups through a lens of economic empowerment.

The organization founded in New York in 1910, by George Edmund Haynes, a graduate of Fisk University, Yale University and the first Black American to earn a doctorate from Columbia University, and Ruth Standish Baldwin, the wife of a railroad tycoon, began as the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes.

1950 • Urban League staffers discuss their anniversary plans. (AFRO Archives

Then the group combined with the Committee for the Improvement of Industrial Conditions Among Negroes, also in New York and was renamed the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes.

By 1920, the organization adopted its current name the National Urban League. Back in its early days, the NUL focused almost singularly on Black employment. At that time the group was led by Eugene K. Jones, who later took a leave of absence to work in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to run the Department of Commerce unit for the study of “Negro Problems.” He was part of the group of Roosevelt’s Black advisors known as the “Black Cabinet.”

By 1941, the NUL worked on organizing a “March on Washington” more than two decades before the historic event in Washington, D.C. led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. The March that was planned in 1941, in the midst of  World War II and just before America’s official entry into it, was going to protest racial discrimination in the defense industry and the military. However, it was scuttled a week before it was scheduled allegedly because President Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practices Committee by executive order. Yet, two of the main organizers of the cancelled 1941 March, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, both went on to be among the most important contributors and organizers of the iconic March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

By then the NUL was led by Whitney Young, also a major force of the American Civil Rights Movement and a member of the so-called “Big Six,” of the Movement, which included: Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Randolph and Roy Wilkins.

1948 • Members of the steering committee named to serve until officers are elected for the newly formed Guild of the Baltimore Urban League. (AFRO Archives Photo)

By 2003, the NUL was led by Marc Morial, the former mayor of Atlanta, the eighth president and CEO of the organization.

“An opportunity at a historic time in American history as to whether this nation’s elected representatives will hear the pain, hear the cries, hear the suffering, hear the outrage and realize this is not the time for a de minimis, backroom, Washington political compromise,” Morial said when he addressed the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on law enforcement reform on June 10. “This is a moment not of politics, not of Black or White, but of morality…a moment to stand with people of this nation to say enough is enough, Black Lives Matter.”


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor