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American Negro Academy: Promoting the Talented Tenth

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The American Negro Academy was the first organization in the United States devoted to African-American scholarship. Founded in 1897, the mission of the American Negro Academy was to promote the academic achievements of African-Americans in areas such as higher education, arts, and science.

Members of the organization were part of W.E.B. Du Bois' “Talented Tenth” and pledged to uphold the objectives of the organization, which included defending African-Americans against racism; publish works that showed the scholarship of African-Americans; promote the importance of higher education for African-Americans; and develop intellectualism amongst African-Americans by promoting literature, visual art, music and science. Membership in the American Negro Academy was by invitation and open only to male scholars of African descent. In addition, the membership was capped at fifty scholars.

    Founding members included:
  • Reverend Alexander Crummell, a former abolitionist, clergyman and believer in Pan Africanism.
  • John Wesley Cromwell, news publisher, educator and lawyer.
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet, playwright and novelist.
  • Walter B. Hayson, clergyman
  • Kelly Miller, scientist and mathematician.

The organization held its first meeting in March of 1870. From the outset, members agreed that the American Negro Academy was established in opposition to Booker T. Washington's philosophy, which underscored vocational and industrial training. The American Negro Academy assembled educated men of African Diaspora who invested in uplifting the race through academics. The goal of the organization was to “lead and protect their people” as well as to be a “weapon to secure equality and destroy racism.” As such, members were in direct opposition to Washington’s Atlanta Compromise and argued through their work and writings for an immediate end to segregation and discrimination.

    Presidents of the academy included:
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, scholar and civil rights leader.
  • Archibald H. Grimke, lawyer, diplomat and journalist.
  • Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, historian, writer and bibliophile.

Under the leadership of men such as Du Bois, Grimke and Schomburg, members of the American Negro Academy published several books and pamphlets which examined African-American culture and society in the United States. Other publications analyzed the effects of racism on United States’ society. These publications include:

  • Disenfranchisement of the Negro by J.L. Lowe
  • The Early Negro Conventions by John W. Cromwell
  • Comparative Study of the Negro Problem by Charles C. Cook
  • Economic Contributions by the Negro to America by Arturo Schomburg
  • Status of the Free Negro from 1860 - 1870 by William Pickens

As a result of selective membership process, leaders of the American Negro Academy found it hard to meet their financial obligations. Membership in the American Negro Academy diminished in the 1920s and the organization officially closed by 1928. However, the organization was revived more than forty years later as many African-American artists, writers, historians and scholars realized the importance continuing this legacy of work. And in 1969, the non-profit organization, the Black Academy of Arts and Letters was established.

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