The Crisis

The Crisis

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was established in February, 1909. The NAACP started its own magazine, Crisis in November, 1910. It was named after a popular poem, The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell. The magazine was edited by William Du Bois and the first edition had sixteen page magazine and cost 10 cents a copy.

In his first editorial William Du Bois said that Crisis would "be first and foremost a newspaper", and secondly, it would serve as a review of opinion and literature. Finally it would stand "for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempts to gain these rights and realize these ideals."

Early contributors to early issues included Oswald Garrison Villard, Jane Addams, Adela Hunt Logan, Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells and Charles Edward Russell. The magazine soon built up a large readership amongst black people and white sympathizers. In January, 1911, it sold 3,000, February 4,000 and March 6,000. Circulation reached 50,000 by 1917 and peaked at 100,000 in 1919. This made it more popular than established journals such as the New Republic and The Nation.

In the journal William Du Bois campaigned against lynching, Jim Crow laws, sexual inequality. He told his readers in October, 1911, that "every argument for Negro suffrage is an argument for women's suffrage." In 1912 he supported Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party candidate for president. He particularly admired the way that Debs refused to address segregated audiences in the South.

William Du Bois supported United States involvement in the First World War. This caused him to break with the editors of other African American journals such as Chandler Owen and Philip Randolph (The Messenger) and Hubert Harrison (The Voice). Harrison was particularly upset by an article in The Crisis where he argued that: "Let, us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks."

The circulation of The Crisis continued to grow. The average monthly sales reached 30,000 in 1915. Sometimes members of the NAACP board questioned the methods that William Du Bois used to promote the magazine. The use of a light-skinned beautiful woman on the front-cover caused a great deal of controversy and Oswald Garrison Villard was one of the many members of the organisation who complained.

The Crisis continued to grow and in September 1916 circulation almost reached 50,000. The magazine finally reached its editor's objective when the December, 1918 edition sold 53,750 copies. The following year it was selling 100,000 copies a month making it more popular than established journals such as the New Republic and The Nation.

Although Du Bois had originally been sympathetic to Black Nationalism, after the First World War he became highly critical of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Du Bois described the leader of the UNIA as "a lunatic or traitor" and Garvey retaliated by calling him a "white man's ******".

William Du Bois became increasingly militant and by the 1930s he was accused of being a Marxist. After a controversial editorial in January, 1934, the NAACP board demanded that unless he reflected the views of the organization he should resign. This he agreed to do and was replaced by the more moderate Roy Wilkins.

Primary Sources

(1) William Du Bois, The Crisis (October, 1911)

Every argument for Negro suffrage is an argument for women's suffrage; every argument for women's suffrage is an argument for Negro suffrage; both are great moments in democracy. There should be on the part of Negroes absolutely no hesitation whenever and wherever responsible human beings are without voice in their government. The man of Negro blood who hesitates to do them justice is false to his race, his ideals and his country.

(2) William Du Bois, The Crisis (August, 1912)

The Progressive Party recognizes that distinctions of race or class in political life have no place in a democracy. Especially does the party realize that a group of 10,000,000 people who have in a generation changed from a slave to a free labour system, re-established family, life, accumulated $1,000,000,000 in property, including 20,000,000 acres of land, and reduced their illiteracy from 80 to 30 per cent, deserve and must have justice, opportunity and a voice in their own government. The party, therefore, demands for the American of Negro descent the repeal of unfair discriminatory laws and the right to vote on the same terms on which other citizens vote.

(3) When Booker T. Washington died, William Du Bois wrote an article about him in The Crisis (14th November, 1915)

Booker T. Washington was the greatest Negro leader since Frederick Douglass, and the most distinguished man, white or black who has come out of the South since the Civil War. On the other hand, in stern justice, we must lay on the soul of this man, a heavy responsibility for the consummation of Negro disfranchisement, the decline of the Negro college and the firmer establishment of color caste in this land.

(4) Hubert Harrison, The Voice (25th July, 1918)

The essence of the present situation lies in the fact that the people whom our white masters have "recognized" as our leaders (without taking the trouble to consult us) and those who, by our own selection, has actually attained to leadership among us are being revaluated and, in most cases, rejected. The most striking instance from the latter class is Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, the editor of the Crisis. Du Bois's case is the more significant because his former services to his race have been undoubtedly of a high and courageous sort.

Dr. Du Bois first palpably sinned in his editorial, "Close Ranks". But this offense lies in a single sentence: "Let, us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks." It is felt by all his critics that Du Bois, of all Negroes, knows best that our "special grievances", which the War Department Bulletin describes as justifiable, consists of lynching, segregation and disfranchisement and that the Negroes of America cannot preserve either their lives, their manhood or their vote (which is their political lives and liberties) with these things in existence.

(5) Roy Wilkins interviewed Huey P. Long for The Crisis in February, 1935.

"How about lynching, Senator? About the Costigan-Wagner bill in congress and that lynching down there yesterday in Franklinton..."

He ducked the Costigan-Wagner bill, but of course, everyone knows he is against it. He cut me off on the Franklinton lynching and hastened in with his "pat" explanation:

"You mean down in Washington parish (county)? Oh, that? That one slipped up on us. Too bad, but those slips will happen. You know while I was governor there were no lynchings and since this man (Governor Allen) has been in he hasn't had any. (There have been 7 lynchings in Louisiana in the last two years.) This one slipped up. I can't do nothing about it. No sir. Can't do the dead nigra no good. Why, if I tried to go after those lynchers it might cause a hundred more ******s to be killed. You wouldn't want that, would you?"

"But you control Louisiana," I persisted, "you could..."

"Yeah, but it's not that simple. I told you there are some things even Huey Long can't get away with. We'll just have to watch out for the next one. Anyway that ****** was guilty of coldblooded murder."

"But your own supreme court had just granted him a new trial."

"Sure we got a law which allows a reversal on technical points. This ****** got hold of a smart lawyer somewhere and proved a technicality. He was guilty as hell. But we'll catch the next lynching."

(6) William Patterson, The Man Who Cried Genocide (1971)

One day, as I walked to the hotel from the university, I was attracted by a copy of the Crisis, on display in the window of a

bookstore. This was the official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and what particularly struck me was the headline "Close Ranks." It turned out to be the title of an editorial written by W. E. B. Du Bois, the magazine's editor. His injunction that colored people should support the U.S. war effort did not correspond with my own thoughts on the subject. But I wanted to examine the arguments in support of the opposite viewpoint. Walking into that store was like walking into a new life. Emanuel Levine, a short, stocky man of about 30, with a shock of black hair and a muscular body that made me think of a wrestler, greeted me cordially.

It was not surprising that a discontented Black law student should find pleasure in a place where he could engage in

friendly and informative discussions. At school they were teaching me to accommodate to the racist society in which I

lived, while in the bookstore I began to learn some fundamentals about the nature of that society and how to go about

changing it.

I became acquainted with the Masses, a militant magazine that published lively social criticism of the entire American

scene. I was introduced to Marxist literature and books; I read the Messenger, a magazine published in New York by two

young Black radicals - A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen. I was stirred by its analyses of the source of Black oppression and the attempt to identify it with the international revolution against working-class oppression and colonialism. This was an enriching and exhilarating experience.