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Mon, 02.11.1924

The Negro Sanhedrin Conference Begins

Conference Pamphlet

 *The Negro Sanhedrin Conference began on this date in 1924. This was a four-day national "All-Race Conference" held in Chicago, Illinois. The gathering was attended by 250 delegates representing 61 trade unions, civic groups, and fraternal organizations in a short-lived attempt to forge a national program protecting the legal rights of African American tenant farmers and wage workers and extending the scope of American Civil Rights. The idea came in the spring of 1923, following the Congressional defeat of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill

William Monroe Trotter originated the idea of assembling a national council of prominent black leaders.  Cyril Briggs of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) coordinated the gathering. On March 24, 1923, in a formal document signed by the ABB and NERL, other groups lent their standard support, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the International Uplift League, the Friends of Freedom, and the National Race Congress.  Kelly Miller was head of the arrangements committee. Miller chose the name for the gathering, the "Sanhedrin," a phrase originating in the Biblical first book of Maccabees and referring to a supreme council of the Hebrew people.

The conference was far from radical, with the convention electing Miller its chairman following a short debate — a decision bitterly opposed by the radical caucus of delegates, which included Briggs, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, and Otto Huiswoud. Fort-Whiteman urged the adoption of a program calling for an end to racial segregation in the housing market, termination of colonialism in Africa, legally binding contracts to protect tenant farmers, abolition of anti-miscegenation laws, and diplomatic recognition of Soviet Russia by the United States government, and more. Resolutions condemning the American Federation of Labor for allowing its affiliated unions the freedom to exclude black workers from membership and calling for blacks to join the Communist-sponsored Farmer-Labor Party were prepared.

Convention chairman Miller short-circuited the radicals' agenda by appointing a Chicago Chamber of Commerce official as head of the Sanhedrin's Labor Committee. This forced the ABB and its allies to bring their proposed resolutions. This process failed its resolutions dealing with school segregation, opposing the Ku Klux Klan, and seeking recognition from Soviet Russia. Those resolutions which were passed severely tempered any rebuke of labor union locals. For exclusion of black members rather than ringing condemnation of the American Federation of Labor leadership and opining in favor of equal pay for workers without respect to race and organized financial assistance to the struggling agricultural workers harmed by the agricultural depression that gripped the nation.

The Negro Sanhedrin was the first national gathering of black Americans in which members of the Communist movement openly participated. In this, the Sanhedrin was a significant failure, with the factional activities of the Communists in Chicago deeply resented and the organization banned from a subsequent and final gathering held in Washington, D.C.  The Sanhedrin movement failed to be a successful vehicle for the coordination of activity by the myriad of mainstream black organizations after the close of the Chicago gathering. The Sanhedrin concluded on February 15, 1924. 

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