National Urban League (NUL)

National Urban League (NUL)


* Founded in 1910 as the Committee on Urban Conditions among Negroes
* Views America as a nation awash in racism and discrimination
* Supports racial preferences in employment and college admissions

The National Urban League (NUL) was established in 1910 as the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (CUCAN), whose key founders were Socialist Party member Ruth Standish Baldwin, the aunt of ACLU founder Roger Baldwin, and black social worker George Haynes, who served as the organization’s first executive director until 1918. NUL’s founding mission was, and remains, “to enable African-Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity and power and civil rights.”

In 1911, CUCAN merged with the Committee for the Improvement of Industrial Conditions Among Negroes and the National League for the Protection of Colored Women, thereby forming the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. In 1920 the organization’s name was changed to the National Urban League.

Haynes was succeeded as NUL’s executive director by Eugene Kinckle Jones, who headed the League from 1918-1941. Best known for his role in founding Alpha Phi Alpha, the first Greek-letter fraternity for blacks in the United States, Jones oversaw the rise of the journal Opportunity, which along with the NAACP‘s Crisis became the principal African-American literary publications of the Harlem Renaissance.

During the era between the two World Wars, NUL grew increasingly strident in its demands for social reform. It organized boycotts against businesses that did not hire black workers, initiated drives to incorporate blacks into labor unions, and applied pressure on the federal government to ensure that blacks were included in New Deal recovery programs.

In 1941, social worker and labor-rights activist Lester Granger, who had made his reputation in the 1930s by promoting black membership in trade unions and challenging racism by unions and employers, became NUL’s new executive director. Central to Granger’s leadership were his efforts to integrate the U.S. Armed Forces and the defense industry.

Granger retired in 1961 and was replaced by Whitney Young Jr., a social worker from Kentucky. That same year, an NUL official gave voice to the organization’s growing commitment to racial quotas and preferences, as opposed to equal opportunity, when he announced that “[B]eing color-blind for an official of government is no longer a virtue. What we need to be is positively color-conscious.” A passionate advocate for expansive government and private-sector efforts to lift people out of poverty, Young spearheaded the drafting of a ten-point “Domestic Marshall Plan” designed to help “close the huge social and economic gap between black and white Americans.” Most notably, Young’s plan influenced President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” initiatives for redistributing wealth.

Young began actively campaigning against the Vietnam War in 1969, arguing that financial resources needed at home were being diverted by the war. Young once stated that black people’s “anti-white feelings” could not be equated with white racism, because that would be “to equate the bitterness of the victim with the evil that oppresses him.”

Young died in 1971 and was succeeded by attorney Vernon Jordan,[1] who expanded NUL’s calls for federal government assistance in the areas of housing, education, and minority business development. He also instituted a citizenship-education program designed to increase black voter turnout, and launched NUL’s annual State of Black America Report.

Social worker John E. Jacob headed NUL from 1982-94, emphasizing self-help as a means of dealing with the problems of black crime, poverty, and fatherless homes. Toward that end, he developed the “National Urban League Incentives to Excel and Succeed” program for inner-city youth. Notwithstanding Jacob’s calls for bootstrap upward mobility, NUL continued to become ever-more committed to the position that the United States was an intractably, irredeemably racist nation. One 1987 NUL report, for instance, claimed that as a result of America’s “indifference to the continued existence of racism and racial disadvantage that permeate our society,” blacks were “besieged by a resurgence of raw racism, persistent economic depression, and the continued erosion of past gains.”[2]

From 1994-2003, NUL was headed by Hugh Price, who argued forcefully for affirmative action, charged that black youths were unfairly treated by the criminal-justice system, and led the League’s opposition to the incarceration of youthful offenders in adult prisons.

NUL’s president since 2003 has been former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial, who devloped a “five-point empowerment agenda” aimed at “closing the equality gaps which exist for African Americans and other emerging ethnic communities in education, economic empowerment, health and quality of life, civic engagement, and civil rights and racial justice.”

NUL today holds clearly defined positions on a number of major policy issues:

Health Care: NUL strongly supports what it calls “the historic Affordable Care Act” (Obamacare) and urges the federal government “to incentivize Medicaid expansion to every state.”

Education: NUL advocates the ever-expanding use of taxpayer dollars to bankroll “fair and equitable [public] school funding for all,” “robust early childhood education for each child,” programs designed to “significantly improve” graduation rates “for students of color,” and efforts to recruit and hire large numbers of “diverse teachers” (i.e., nonwhites).

Housing: NUL calls for “progressive housing policies” designed to “ensure that new consumer regulations will not sideline African Americans from acquiring affordable housing, whether purchased, public, or rental.” For example, the League exhorts policy makers to “discourage arbitrarily high down-payment requirements,” “lower credit-score requirements to reasonable levels,” and strengthen “affordable housing goals” requiring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “to provide affordable mortgage credit to underserved families and neighborhoods.” NUL dismisses claims that the housing-market crisis of 2008 was caused, at least in part, by these same goals as a “false narrative.”

Civil Rights: NUL seeks to: “protect affirmative action”; “restore the Voting Rights Act that was devastated” by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to strike down a VRA provision requiring mainly Southern states to undergo special federal scrutiny before being permitted to change their election laws in any way; promote the restoration of voting rights to convicted felons after they are released from prison; advance “comprehensive criminal-justice reform” to address the “racial discrimination” that allegedly “permeates every aspect of the criminal-justice system”; end all law-enforcement profiling based on “race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion”; promote “comprehensive gun control” making it more difficult for citizens to obtain firearms; eliminate or reduce mandatory minimum drug sentences and “allow retroactive application of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act’s reductions to crack cocaine sentences” (which disproportionately affect black offenders); repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws that “serve only to perpetuate an unequal system of justice with lethal consequences that disproportionately impac[t] communities of color”; and “addres[s] the disproportionate number of youths of color in the [juvenile justice] system that receive harsher treatment and tougher sentences.”

Jobs: “When private demand is insufficient to drive economic growth and reduce the unemployment rate,” says NUL, it is “necessary” to implement “government-sponsored economic development initiatives” that “direct financial support” to “localities and non-profits that employ people … of color.” The League also calls for massive “infrastructure investments” on projects like the construction and repair of bridges, tunnels, roads, airports, schools, and community centers. Moreover, NUL urges legislators to raise the national minimum wage to $12-per-hour by 2020, and to then “set automatic increases starting in 2021 to keep pace with rising wages overall.”

For additional information on NUL, click here.


[1] In 1977, NUL changed the title of its CEO from “Executive Director” to “President.”
[2] Historic Documents of 1987 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1988), pp. 43-58. (The report added: “Racism continues to live on, despite the pious pronouncements that we are now a color-blind society. It can be seen in the daily drumfire of local reports about racially inspired outrages that show old forms of racism thriving alongside the more subtle forms of discrimination that have become more popular.”)

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