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NYS Historic
Event, People
515 Leedsville Rd, Amenia, NY 12501, USA
41.85458, -73.516029
Grant Recipient
Arlington High School
Historic Marker



IN 1916 AND 1933,

Over three days, from August 24-26, 1916, a gathering of around 60 prominent social reformers and advocates for rights for Black Americans occurred at Troutbeck, the home of Dr. Joel E. Spingarn, located in Amenia, NY. Spingarn was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and would go on to serve as president of the organization from 1930 to 1939. He established the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1914, which is awarded annually by the NAACP in recognition of outstanding achievement by a Black American.

Attendees of the 1916 Amenia Conference included W.E.B. Du Bois and other NAACP leaders such as Mary Church Terrell, Mary Talbert, Dr. Verina Morton Jones, John Hope, William Pickens, and Arthur Spingarn. The September 7, 1916 issue of the African American paper, New York Age, published a list of resolutions unanimously adopted by members of the conference, including in part the following:

(1) The conference believes that all forms of education are desirable for the Negro, and that every form of education should be encouraged and advanced.

(2) It believes that the Negro, in common with all other races, cannot achieve its highest development without complete political freedom.

(3) It believes that this development and this freedom cannot be furthered without organization, and without a practical working understanding among the leaders of the colored race.

In writing on the 1916 Amenia Conference published as Number Eight in the Troutbeck Leaflets series in 1925, W.E.B. Du Bois explained the intentions of the conference:

“The conference, as Mr. Spingarn conceived it, was to be ‘under the auspices of the N.A.A.C.P.’ but wholly independent of it, and the invitations definitely said this. They were issued by Mr. Spingarn personally, and the guests were assured that they would not be bound by any program of the N.A.A.C.P. Thus the conference was intended primarily to bring about as large a degree as possible of unity of purpose among Negro leaders and to do this regardless of its effect upon any organization, although, of course, many of us hoped that some central organization and preferably the N.A.A.C.P. would eventually represent this new united purpose.”

While there was consensus on the need to improve the quality of life for Black Americans, there were differing opinions on how to go about achieving this goal. The 1916 Amenia Conference marked a defining point in the concerted fight for equal rights for Black people in America, and an early moment in the burgeoning NAACP, which had been founded in 1909. In the 1925 Troutbeck Leaflet Number Eight, Du Bois referred to the 1916 Amenia Conference as a “symbol” marking “the end of the old things and the old thoughts and the old ways” and reflected on the proceedings of the gathering:

“We talked of many matters at Amenia – of education, politics, organization, and the situation in the South. First of all we spoke of the former subjects of controversy; then we made the deliberations private, and to this day there is no record of what various persons said; and finally we declared for annual meetings of the conference, and then we got to the main subjects of controversy.”

Du Bois noted that the conference did not become an annual event as was desired. The next Amenia Conference did not take place until August 18-21, 1933. Once again, the conference was held at Spingarn’s Troutbeck home. Spingarn was now serving as president of the NAACP. Similar to the 1916 conference, the 1933 Amenia Conference was held under the auspices of the NAACP, but the NAACP would exercise no control over the conference. According to the 1933 Amenia Conference program, available in the W.E.B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312) in the Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries:

“The object of the meeting is to discuss with perfect freedom and without publicity the present situation of the Negro race. There is no limitation on opinions or expressions, except such courtesy as will recognize the rights of all, and such sincerity as will waste no one’s time. Though a very small number of representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will be present, this is not an N.A.A.C.P. Conference, and no attempt to limit the discussion to the ideals or programme of that Association will be tolerated. It is hoped that a new vision of the Negro’s future, and a new programme, will arise out of this independent discussion.”

The 1933 Amenia Conference program included that the gathering was predominantly intended for “young leaders or potential leaders of the race” in addition to a few “distinguished visitors” in order that the conference “mirror the aspirations and thoughts of colored youth, both men and women, concerning the Negro, America, and the world.” In addition to Du Bois and Spingarn, attendees included Ralph Bunche, Charles Hamilton Houston, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, James Weldon Johnson, Walter Francis White, and Roy Wilkins.

The October 1933 issue of The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP, edited by Du Bois, included a report on the 1933 Amenia Conference in an article entitled, “Youth and Age at Amenia.” It stated that the conference had been an “attempt to bring together and into sympathetic understanding, Youth and Age interested in the Negro problem.” It noted how the majority of attendees ranged in age from 25 to 35 years old, and included social workers, educators, and writers. Resolutions adopted by the conference identified the primary problem for Black people in America as an economic issue, citing class and economic inequality, and being critical of the traditional American labor movement’s lack of consideration of Black Americans’ rights. The conference called for a new labor movement, stating that efforts need to be political as well as economic to result in effective change.