Founded in 1911 in New York City, the National Urban League (NUL) is one of five civil rights organizations collectively known as the “Big Five.” The organization was founded to provide assistance to African Americans to further the dual tenets of economic and social justice.
The migration by more than one million southern blacks between 1915 and 1920 to the North and West created greater demands on the organization. During the second decade of the twentieth century, multiple factors precipitated what is known as The Great Migration: an agricultural depression and boo weevil infestation in the South, a demand for industrial labor in the North, and southern Jim Crow laws. The large influx of African Americans into the North caused racial strife and economic hardships for the new migrants.
Initially founded as a social service organization with the idea of aiding African Americans’ resettlement in the North, the organization’s work eventually evolved into lobbying businesses, labor unions, and the government; sponsoring sociological research to discredit the widely-held belief that African Americans were inferior; and endorsing direct-action protest during the Civil Rights Movement.
As organization president in the 1960s, Whitney M. Young Jr. spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the South and turning the NUL from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for justice. Under his leadership, the NUL participated in the March on Washington and the Poor People’s Campaign; one of his most enduring contributions was the implementation of a national “Marshall Plan” for urban renewal. The NUL is currently active as one of the oldest civil rights organizations in existence.