Boston radicals found a home in New Bedford

Black History

Ted Langston Chase | 2/7/2013, 12:03 p.m.

“We respect Mr. Washington’s devotion to the educational interests of his race; we admire his genius in rearing such a beacon light as Tuskegee, in the dismal swamp of ignorance and degradation, the great black belt,” Jourdain wrote one of Washington’s confidantes on Aug. 19, 1902. “But we cannot follow his lead when he counsels ‘nolo contendere’ in the matter of manhood and citizenship rights.”

Jourdain went on to describe the situation in New Bedford, where some residents understood fully the value of “material advancement.”

“… For while we number only about 1,700, we pay taxes on real estate the assessed valuation of which is about $330,000.00; and our percentage of men in business for themselves averages well with other races,” Jourdain wrote.

But as Jourdain rightly pointed out, industrial training and high moral values were only part of the solution.

“Love of personal history, a jealous defense of their rights and liberties have been the dominant traits of every people who ever achieved anything admirable, and we believe those traits to be prime essentials of the Negro American today,” Jourdain wrote.

New Bedford: The host city

In spite of its size, when it came to meeting places for the black elite, New Bedford was in the company of cities like Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York City.

The roster of Niagarites that either frequented Arnold Street, or knew of it, expanded to include Mr. and Mrs. Clement G. Morgan of Boston; Archibald Grimke of Boston; Dr. Rebecca Cole, a physician and graduate of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania; and Mrs. Ida Gibbs Hunt, a graduate of Oberlin College.

The male-dominated Niagara Movement charged men a $5 fee for full membership and a $1 associate membership fee for women. Nonetheless, the membership anxiously listened to the platforms and campaigns of men such as W.E.B. Du Bois, William Monroe Trotter and Booker T. Washington.

Washington included New Bedford on his national lecture tour. He traveled with a secretary and aides who meticulously recorded the impact of manual skills, apprenticeship and personal initiative training in black communities up and down the East Coast. Perhaps to a fault, Washington was overly optimistic about the future of black enterprise and its place in America’s free marketplace.

As early as 1895, Washington had speaking engagements in New Bedford churches such as United Pilgrim Methodist Church and the New Bedford Unitarian Church. The college he founded, the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., received philosophical and financial support from wealthy philanthropist Warren Delano III, a nephew of Franklin D. Roosevelt and resident of Fairhaven, Mass., just across the Acushnet River from New Bedford.

In addition to Washington, Du Bois, a born and bred Massachusetts resident, was also making a name for himself as a candid, often opinionated intellectual with academic credentials that included Fisk and Harvard universities, as well as extended study at the University of Berlin and the University of Paris.

Like Jourdain, Du Bois was one of the “original twenty-nine” organizers who met in Niagara Falls, Canada, in 1905. He frequented Jourdain’s Arnold Street residence and was known to draft speeches, position papers and essays during visits.

Du Bois had a very personal connection to New Bedford. His grandfather, Alexander Du Bois, had been a resident of New Bedford since 1873.