Celebrating Our Centennial

The National Urban League is turning 100! See how NUL has spent the last 100 years empowering Americans all over this nation.

National Urban League Centennial

The Mission

To Empower African Americans to:

  • Secure economic self-reliance
  • Secure parity
  • Secure power
  • Secure civil rights

The History

The National Urban League grew out of that spontaneous grassroots campaign for freedom and opportunity called the Black Migrations.

When the U.S. Supreme Court declared its approval of segregation in the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, the White South quickly adopted a brutal system of economic, social and political oppression. To escape the brutality, African Americans went North.

These new Northerners quickly discovered they had not escaped racial discrimination. They were excluded from all the high-quality jobs, victimized by poor housing and education, and inexperienced in the ways of urban living—many lived in terrible social and economic conditions.

Nonetheless, African Americans knew there was great opportunity in the North, but to capitalize on that opportunity, to successfully adapt to urban life, and to reduce the pervasive discrimination they faced, they would need help. That was the reason the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes was established on September 29, 1910 in New York City.

Two people key to the organization’s founding were Mrs. Ruth Standish Baldwin and Dr. George Edmund Haynes, who became the first executive secretary. Dr. Haynes, a graduate of Fisk University, Yale University, and Columbia University (he was the first African American to receive a doctorate from Columbia), felt a compelling need to use his training as a social worker to serve his people.

A year later, the Committee merged with the Committee for the Improvement of Industrial Conditions Among Negroes in New York (founded in New York in 1906), and the National League for the Protection of Colored Women (founded in 1905) to form the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. In 1920, the name was later shortened to the National Urban League.

The organization counseled black migrants from the South, helped train black social workers, and worked in various other ways to bring educational and employment opportunities to blacks. Its research into the problems blacks faced in employment opportunities, recreation, housing, health and sanitation, and education spurred the League’s quick growth. By the end of World War I the organization had 81 staff members working in 30 cities.

Whitney M. Young, Jr. became the executive director in 1961. He expanded the League’s fund-raising ability and, made the League a full partner in the civil rights movement. In 1982, John E. Jacob, became the Urban Leagues leader and expanded its outreach even further.

Jacob established the Permanent Development Fund in order to increase the organization’s financial strength. In honor of Whitney Young, he established several programs to aid the development of those who work for and with the League: The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Training Center; the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Race Relations Program; and the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Commemoration Ceremony.

Jacob established the League’s NULITES youth development program and spurred the League to put new emphasis on programs to reduce teenage pregnancy, help single mothers, combat crime in black communities, and increase voter registration.

In 1994, Hugh B. Price took over the Urban League. It was a critical time for African Americans and Price intensified the organization’s work in three broad areas: education and youth development, individual and community-wide economic empowerment, affirmative action and the promotion of inclusion as a critical foundation for securing America’s future as a multi-ethnic society.

Among Price’s most notable achievements was establishing the League’s Institute of Opportunity and Equality in Washington, DC, which conducted research and public policy analysis of urban issues; and the Campaign for African American Achievement.

On May 15, 2003 the Board of Trustees of the National Urban League voted overwhelmingly to appoint former New Orleans Mayor, Marc H. Morial, as the League’s eighth President and Chief Executive Officer. Since his appointment to the National Urban League, Morial has worked to reenergize the movement’s diverse constituencies by building on the strengths of the NUL’s 95 year old legacy and increasing the organization’s profile both locally and nationally.

In his first year, Morial worked to streamline the organization’s headquarters, secured over $10 million dollars in new funding to support affiliate programs, created the first Legislative Policy Conference “NUL on the Hill’, revamped the State of Black America report, created profitability for the annual conference, and secured a $127.5 million equity fund for minority businesses through the new markets tax credit program.

Through the years, the Urban League has morphed into a powerhouse for securing economic equality and justice for underserved communities. Now guided by a “five point empowerment agenda” that focuses on closing the equality gaps that exist for minority communities in education, economic empowerment, health and quality of life, civic engagement, and civil rights and racial justice, the League continues to fight so that Americans can have the opportunity to achieve the American dream and live a high-quality life.


Read NUL’s full history and Get Empowered to make change in your community! Join the NUL movement and TAKE THE PLEDGE NOW!