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National Urban League

The National Urban League, more commonly known as the Urban League, is a nonprofit, multiracial organization that is dedicated to the elimination of racial SEGREGATION and discrimination and to the enhancement of economic and educational opportunities for African Americans throughout the United States. The Urban League, which was founded in 1910 and is headquartered in New York City, has more than 100 affiliates in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in PLESSY V. FERGUSON 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 (1896), which held that "separate but equal" accommodations for blacks and whites was constitutional, led to a severe system of segregation in the South in which so-called JIM CROW LAWS barred blacks from schools, jobs, and many public places including hotels, bars, and restaurants. The early 1900s saw the beginnings of a migration of blacks from the rural South moving North to find better jobs and economic stability for their families.

Upon arriving in the Northern states, however, many blacks found themselves still excluded from decent housing, jobs, and education. Mostly rural in background, many were bewildered by the customs and mores of urban living. Realizing that these newcomers desperately needed help, the Committee on Urban Conditions among Negroes was established in New York City on September 29, 1910.

In 1911, the committee merged with two other organizations to form the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes. The organization began by counseling black migrants and training black social workers but soon expanded its activities into such areas as housing, employment, education, recreation, and health and sanitation. By the end of WORLD WAR I, the organization had 81 staff members working in New York and in affiliates that had been established in 30 other cities. In 1919 the organization became known as the National Urban League.

Throughout the Great Depression the Urban League crusaded for the INTEGRATION of blacks into segregated LABOR UNIONS and for inclusion in President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT's NEW DEAL programs that were aimed at fostering economic recovery. During WORLD WAR II, the League continued to fight for integration of the trade unions, particularly those involved in defense work and in the ARMED SERVICES. After the war, the league worked with businesses to train black workers for various trades and to encourage Fortune 500 companies to participate in job fairs held on black college campuses.

In 1942 Mrs. Mollie L. Moon started the first Urban League Guild in New York City. Guild members were volunteers who helped League efforts and its programs. The guild placed particular emphasis on information, fund-raising, and leadership development. The activities of the New York Guild were so productive that many others were started by Urban League affiliates. In 1952 the National Council of Guilds was established. In 2003 the National Council oversaw the work of guilds in more than 85 cities.

In 1961 Whitney M. Young Jr. became the league's executive director. Under his leadership the organization grew from 60 chapters to 98, and numerous large American corporations and foundations made contributions that supported job and housing programs as well as other social WELFARE programs. Young's ten-point program calling for federal funding to help reduce poverty among blacks became the basis for President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" that was aimed at reducing poverty for all Americans.

In 1972 Vernon E. Jordan Jr. became the league's fifth executive director. Jordan oversaw a number of new initiatives in the areas of business development, housing, and education. He established the league as a major channel for passing federal funds to urban community programs and services. He also emphasized voter registration, and programs dealing with energy conservation, protection of the environment, and new job roles for women.

John Jacob, who expanded the league's mission and established the Permanent Development Fund, succeeded Jordan in 1982. Jacob advocated for programs to fight crime in black neighborhoods, to reduce teenage pregnancies, and to help single parents. In 1994 Jacob was succeeded by Hugh B. Price, an attorney who emphasized AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, economic empowerment, and the importance of diversity in an increasingly multi-ethnic society.

In 2000 the league recast its Washington Operations Office as the Institute for Opportunity and Equality. The Institute conducts research, analyzes policy, and advocates for significant issues including employment, criminal justice, community development, and economic policy.

In April 2003, the Urban League named Milton Little as interim president and CEO to replace Price who resigned in November 2002. The new president will oversee the operations of the league, which in 2003 had a budget of more than $40 million and was the oldest and largest community-based U.S. organization dedicated to helping blacks achieve racial and economic parity.


Moore, Jesse Thomas. 1981. A Search for Equality: The National Urban League, 1910–1961. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

National Urban League. Available online at <www.nul.org> (accessed July 30, 2003).

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