Niagara Movement - Mystery Solved!

For nearly one hundred years, there has been a mystery associated with the Niagara Movement meeting. Whenever the question is posed about why the founders met briefly in Buffalo, New York before moving their meeting to Fort Erie, Canada, there have been two predictable but speculative answers.  The first supposition is that members of the Elks, which was hosting a major convention in the city at the same time, filled Buffalo's hotels to capacity thus necessitating a change in venue for the Niagara group. The second assumption posits that racism barred the members from Buffalo hotels.  As a result of this discrimination, DuBois or local Buffalonians acting on his behalf found more welcoming accommodations for the group in Fort Erie. However, we can confirm that neither of these responses accurately answers the question about the selection of the Canadian site. 

In June of 1905, W.E.B. DuBois wrote to William H. Talbert, the husband of Mary Burnette Talbert.  Apparently, DuBois and Talbert were not acquainted, as DuBois indicated, in his letter, "Mr. W.C. Smith of Cleveland" suggested he write to the Buffalonian.  In the letter, dated June 13th[1], DuBois told Talbert that he anticipated "50 gentlemen" would be coming to Buffalo during the week of July 9th and staying from 3 to 7 days.  DuBois explained that "we want a quiet place outside the city near the water where we can be to ourselves, hold conferences together and at the same time have bathing, croquet, tennis and fishing for recreation".  DuBois envisioned a country setting and stressed the need for moderate priced accommodations: "A camp near the lake or a farm home would fill the bill.  The charge must be moderate and the accommodations first class but not extravagant.  No liquors are needed."

Erie Beach Hotel
Erie Beach Hotel

According to Owen Thomas, the Fort Erie Hotel, at the time of the Niagara Movement meeting, "was a popular resort for many people in the Fort Erie area, from both Canada and the United States."[2]  Undoubtedly, the Hotel provided the setting and amenities that DuBois was seeking.

Further, DuBois' concern about the expense for the meeting appeared to be one of the prime factors in the decision of locale.  Later, he would write in his autobiography,  "Fifty-nine colored men from 17 different states eventually signed a call for a meeting near Buffalo, New York, during the week of July 9, 1905.  I went to Buffalo and hired a little hotel on the Canadian side of the river at Fort Erie, and waited for the men to attend the meeting.  If sufficient men had not come to pay for the hotel, I should certainly have been in bankruptcy and perhaps in jail..."[3].  Although only 29 men attended the meeting, this number apparently proved "sufficient" to insure that DuBois' fears of bankruptcy were unfounded.

[1] DuBois, W.E.B.  The Papers of W.E.B. DuBois, (1877-1963)
Thomas, Owen A. Niagara's Freedom Trail:  A Guide to African-Canadian History on the Niagara Peninsula".  Niagara Economic and Tourism Corporation, 1999, p. 6
DuBois, W.E.B., The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois:  A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century.  New York, NY:  International Publishers Co, Inc., 1968.