The National Afro-American Council was the first nationwide civil rights organization in the United States. It was organized in Rochester, New York in September 1898 by Timothy Thomas Fortune, editor of the nation's leading black newspaper The New York Age, and Bishop Alexander Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Walters is pictured above.
Alarmed by ongoing violence against African Americans, especially the brutal murder of African American postmaster Frazier B. Baker in Lake City, South Carolina, Bishop Walters wrote: "It becomes absolutely necessary that we organize to protect ourselves." Fortune and Walters called together a number of black leaders to meet in Rochester following the dedication of a statue to the late abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, who had been Rochester's most prominent African American resident.
The National Afro-American Council held annual meetings in various large cities and met regularly with U.S. President William McKinley until his death in 1901. Their meetings attracted a vibrant cross-section of African American leaders and received extensive local newspaper coverage each time, both from mainstream daily papers and African-American weeklies in each host city. Notably, the Council was one of the first black organizations to welcome women as equal members, and Ida B. Wells was one of the first officers of the group.
The Council actively lobbied for a federal anti-lynching law, and also pursued advocacy agendas focused on education andbusiness.
Within a decade the Afro-American Council was torn by factionalism, which led some Council members to form the Niagara Movement, but the Council's activities had helped train many of the black activists who would go on to create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.