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Mon, 05.17.1875

Joel Spingarn, an ally of African America

Joel Spingarn

Joel Elias Spingarn, a Jewish American educator, literary critic, and activist, was born on this date in 1875 in New York City.

He was the older brother of Arthur Spingarn and a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University from 1899 to 1911. He also served in the US Army in World War I as a Colonel. In 1919, he was a co-founder of the publishing firm of Harcourt, Brace and Company. Spingarn was a liberal who helped settle a dispute between W.E.B. DuBois and the followers of Booker T. ashington.

Springarn also helped build the concept of a unified black movement through the founding of the NAACP. Spingarn was one of the first Jewish leaders of the NAACP, its second president, and chairman of its board from 1913 until his death in 1939. In 1913, he established the Spingarn medal, awarded annually for outstanding achievement by an African American. He encouraged the works of African American writers during the Harlem Renaissance, a period of intense Black literary activity in the 1920s.

Joel Spingarn died on July 26, 1939. Spingarn Senior High School in Washington, D.C.; is named for him.


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