Civil and Political Rights

What was the New Negro Alliance and why was it formed?

The New Negro Alliance (NNA), established in Washington, D.C., in 1913, was formed to improve accommodations, fair treatment, and employment of African Americans in Washington, D.C., during the period preceding World War II. Activists and founders of the alliance included John Aubrey Davis, Belford Lawson, and M. Franklin Thorne, who worked with Ralph Bunche, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, James Nabrit, and others. The alliance participated in a boycott of the Hamburger Grill in Washington after it fired black employees in August 1933. They used the then-popular campaign called “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” and mobilized support from black Washingtonians in the academic, legal, and religious communities; the boycott was a success. The NNA was formally organized in 1935 for direct action to secure economic rights, but the organization is not to be confused with Alain Locke and the “New Negro” cultural movement of the 1920s. The NNA achieved its greatest success in New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Company (1938). Lawson, Marshall, Hastie, and Nabrit were members of the NNA’s legal team that argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 5, 1938; it was decided in their favor by a vote of the justices on March 28. This legal victory led to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, mandating fair treatment of employees in agencies of the federal government and establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). Davis began work with the FEPC, and the NNA ceased to exist soon after he left in the 1950s.


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