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African American Citizen Action in the 20th Century
In 1919, for example, W.E.B. DuBois enlisted the help of a lesser-known lawyer in the New York County District Attorney's office to seek justice in the case of NAACP Secretary John Shillady, recently assaulted in Texas. Ferdinand Q. Morton succeeded in enlisting the support of New York Governor Alfred E. Smith in the call for justice. The Permanent Committee for Better Schools in Harlem likewise drew Governor Herbert Lehman's attention to the vital importance of the work being carried out by the New York State Temporary Commission on the Condition of the Urban Colored Population in the 1930s.
New York State War Council member Elmer Carter used his office to lobby for an end to discrimination in the World War II defense industries. New York City resident Mary A. Young brought a case of alleged discrimination to the attention of the State War Council Committee on Discrimination in Employment. Leslie Levi, Jr. testified before the New York State Assembly Subcommittee on Affirmative Action regarding the opportunities provided to minority businesses under the Wicks Law. Time after time, everyday citizens used the civic channels that were open to them to challenge their government and communities to extend equality and justice to all.
African Americans' struggle for civil rights and equality continues in New York and across the nation today. The lessons evident in the many individual acts that have made up this struggle help us to understand the Civil Rights Movement as well as the general power of civic engagement and participation in a democratic society.