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Marion Wright EdelmanMarian Wright Edelman
Marc Morial


  Marc Morial, President and CEO National Urban League

To Be Equal: National Urban League’s Innovative
Urban Civil Rights Museum Will Bring Little-Examined Corners of History to Light

“Recognition of the price paid in human life and liberty for economic advancement—and the costs of resources extracted as nature’s systems were exploited—must inform and guide us as we work to transform our cities and regions. We must forge a new path illuminated by justice, respect for the dignity of each and every human being, and determination to maintain and restore the web of life as the foundation for health and sustainability.”

—Carl Anthony


The history of African Americans in the North does not begin with the Great Migrations of the early 20th Century, when millions of Black Southerners fled the white supremacist terrorism of Jim Crow.  The institution of slavery was as critical to the development of the manufacturing economy of the North as it was to the agricultural development of the South. The oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans was unearthed in lower Manhattan less than a mile from the National Urban League’s current headquarters. Enslaved laborers even built the wall from which Wall Street gets its name.

“It would be misleading to present the history of the northern cities outside the context of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the institutionalized enslavement of African people and their descendants,” said Jennifer Scott, the newly-appointed Executive Director Chief & Curator for the Urban Civil Rights Museum, New York City’s first museum dedicated to the American Civil Rights Movement and one of the only museums in the nation to delve into to the movement in the North.

The museum will be housed in National Urban League’s new Harlem headquarters, the Urban League Empowerment Center, currently under construction and slated to open in late 2024/early 2025.

Scott, most recently the Senior Vice President of Exhibitions and Programs at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, brings decades of experience to her new role – including her many years as a public historian at Weeksville Heritage Center, a historic house museum in Brooklyn, that memorializes a Free Black, independent community in the 19th century.

The Urban Civil Rights Museum will illuminate the history of Weeksville and other similar communities across the North.

“What did it really mean to be a free Black New Yorker, pre-Civil War when states as nearby as New Jersey were still enslaving people, and how complicated was the idea of freedom at that time?” Scott said.

The history of the National Urban League, which was born in Harlem in response to the Great Migrations, and its role in nurturing the Harlem Renaissance, will be interwoven in the museum’s sweeping narrative.

Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, for many years the official monthly publication of the National Urban League, employed Harlem Renaissance writers, publishing their poetry and short stories and promoting African-American literature through articles, reviews, and literary prizes.

The museum also will explore the Black cultural, artistic, and political Renaissances that flourished in other communities like Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Washington DC and in Los Angeles.

“We’re really taking a long view of civil rights, not just the period of the 1950s and 1960s that most people think of as the Civil Rights Era,” Scott said. “We’re looking at it from the very roots of the urban north, all the way up through the present day and the Black Lives Matter movement. The policy decisions and political decisions that have impacted northern city centers will be brought out, along with the different forms of injustices and inequity.

“We invite people to reflect on what brought us to where we are, and how that influences us and inspires us to move forward,” Scott said.

—September 15, 2022


Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President Emerita, Children's Defense Fund

ChildWatch: Doing What Works to End Child Poverty

Unprecedented. Historic. Unequaled. Astounding. We rarely hear adjectives like these associated with good news about child poverty, but these are a few of the words being used to describe new reports on the decline in child poverty rates in the United States. The Census Bureau has just released data showing in 2021 child poverty in the U.S. fell to the lowest rates ever recorded. This coincided with a report by Child Trends that documented how sharply child poverty in the U.S. fell between 1993 and 2019, even before the plunge recorded during the pandemic. Both pieces of news shared a common denominator the Children’s Defense Fund has emphasized time and time again: child poverty is preventable in our rich nation, and there are policy solutions that work to end it. We must build on those policy solutions, make them permanent, and work even harder to make sure they reach every child.

The Census Bureau reported that child poverty was cut nearly in half between 2020 and 2021 thanks to anti-poverty programs established or expanded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including expansions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). The expanded Child Tax Credit alone lifted nearly 3 million children out of poverty in 2021, including 1 million children under 6.

Many of these same programs that made a historic difference during the pandemic have also been a key part of the longer declines in child poverty rates. Child Trends notes that between 1993 and 2019 the number of children protected by the social safety net, which also includes the Earned Income Tax Credit, Social Security, SNAP, and housing subsidies, more than tripled. At the same time, they warned that although the social safety net made an enormous difference for millions of poor children, our nation made the least progress in strengthening this safety net for children with the fewest resources, including children in deep poverty, those in immigrant families, and children without stably employed parents. These are the children who still need help the most, and these findings reaffirm the importance of the expanded anti-poverty programs put in place during the pandemic and the obvious but critical observation that when more children were protected by anti-poverty programs in 2020 and 2021, child poverty dropped even more dramatically.

This last point was reinforced by yet another piece of data released this week. The Children’s Defense Fund and other organizations recently partnered with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) on a national survey of low- to moderate-income parents to see how they have been affected by the expiration of monthly expanded CTC payments. CLASP’s results underscored again that the expanded CTC significantly reduced family hardship and hunger. Not surprisingly, however, the survey also found that as soon as CTC payments ended families faced more difficulties affording bills, groceries, clothing, and other essentials. We’ve made significant progress in reducing child poverty over the last quarter-century, and pandemic-era improvements proved we can immediately reach even more children and cut child poverty even faster. Why wouldn’t we keep doing it?

The decline in child poverty is wonderful news, and the dramatic pandemic-era plunge does not have to be a blip on the graph. We cannot let child poverty rates tick upwards again when every tenth of a point represents thousands of children who deserve a better future. We know what works, and we now know what we can do to keep bending that child poverty rate curve downwards towards zero. Our nation can—and must—continue this progress and expand effective policies to end child poverty now.

—September 16, 2022


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