The National Negro Congress was an organization formed in 1935 on the campus of Howard University in order to put pressure on New Deal administrators to address Black labor and civil rights matters. The Congress held its inaugural meeting on February 14, 1936 in South Side Chicago, bringing in over 800 delegates representing 500 organizations.

Communist Party leader and activist John P. Ford, who later became the first Black mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., spearheaded the development of the Congress. It aligned itself with members of the labor movement, the Communist Party, and, breaking with the times, worked alongside civil rights groups who often skewed towards conservative viewpoints.

The Congress’ first meeting took place at the 8th Regiment Armory and was held over a course of two days. Local station WCFL, known as the “Voice Of Labor,” broadcast the meeting. The gathering addressed several important topics in the Black community, including police brutality, women and labor, interracial organizing in labor unions, and other social injustices faced by Black Americans at the time. The Chicago Defender reported at the time that the meeting was “the most ambitious effort for bringing together members of the race on any single issue.

Charles Burton of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters held the leadership position until 1940, and his successor, Ishmael P. Flory took over the reins while employing a more radical organizing approach.

Despite strong progress in the labor movement, the group’s ties with Communism and the growing sentiment of the Cold War led to its disbandment in 1947. However, many Congress members remained active in the movement.




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