By Amber L. Moore, Project Archivist, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University
Dr. James Egert Allen (1896-1980), educator, community advocate, civil rights activist, and author, was an active promoter of African American studies in New York. He was the first president of the New York Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1933-1938), a longtime public school teacher in New York City (1926-1946), and the author of three books: The Negro in New York (1964), Black History: Past and Present (1971) and The Legend of Arthur A. Schomburg (1975).
Shortly after graduating from Johnson C. Smith University in 1916, Allen enrolled in graduate classes at Columbia University in New York. During summer school at Columbia in 1921, Allen witnessed a parade sponsored by Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and while a student, he learned more about Garvey's movement, its objectives, and the interest it uncovered in New York City. Allen said that the movement was one of the earliest signs of the interest of African Americans in their own story, contributions, and history. He believed that African Americans now were determined to “achieve a place in the sun.”
Allen was involved in both the educational and community relations in New York. He took the lead in the reestablishment of the New York City Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1933. He was elected as its first president from 1933-1938; and also served as the first president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP from 1937-1952. During his tenure, he helped establish chapters of the association throughout the state.
The Amistad Research Center is in the final stages of creating a searchable finding aid for the James Egert Allen papers. In this collection, there is a sub-series of Allen’s NAACP activities. The correspondence (1929-1971) contains both incoming and outgoing letters from Allen and the NAACP Board of Directors as well as invitations, meeting requests and confirmations, and speaking engagement requests. Conference materials (1936-1964) include programs from the first annual NAACP New York State Conference in 1937 and subsequent years, along with programs from out of state NAACP conferences in Baltimore and Ohio.
The majority of the NAACP material is printed material (1936-1969) including agendas for NAACP meetings and events; programs for banquets, concerts and dinners; and publications about the history of the NAACP. Of special interest is a pamphlet for “Teacher’s Salaries in Black and White” (1941) which details the salary discrepancies between teachers in segregated schools.
The original NAACP Branch files for New York City (Manhattan), 1915-1940, and the NAACP New York State Conference, 1936-1939 are held by the Library of Congress.
James Egert Allen (Seated), President of NAACP New York State Conference with unidentified members, 1949
“Working for Freedom: Documenting Civil Rights Organizations” is a collaborative project between Emory University, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center to uncover and make available previously hidden collections documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and New Orleans. The project is administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.