Civil and Political Rights

What was the National Equal Rights League?

Historically, organized efforts to promote civil rights of African Americans have been numerous. The National Equal Rights League (NERL) was one such effort. It was founded in 1864, with John Mercer Langston (1829–1897) as its first president. A second league was formed in early 1908, with William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934) as founder. The NERL was a forerunner of the Niagara Movement that W.E.B. Du Bois helped to organize to protest Booker T. Washington’s conservative views. It was also a forerunner of the NAACP, formally founded in 1910. For a number of years Trotter worked through the organization to agitate for the rights of black people. Those who were unable to accept the principles of the NAACP had as an alternative the NERL. Trotter and his followers, known as Trotterites, did not fully embrace the NAACP. The two organizations also competed with each other for members. The NAACP, with its moderate approach to matters of race, grew in importance and membership numbers. Trotter, however, employed discordant tactics, which made his organization less successful. He openly criticized Republican William Howard Taft’s election to the presidency, attacked President Woodrow Wilson’s racial policies, and met with Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge to attack the federal government’s racial practices. The league folded in the 1920s after Trotter was unsuccessful in his aim to form a relationship among the NERL, Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association movement, and the African Blood Brotherhood.


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