Abolitionist movement

Debates over slavery touched every aspect of American life during the decades leading up to the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865).

Read the full story

American Colonization Society

Identification: Charitable organization to send former slaves to Africa

Date: Established in 1816; dissolved in 1964

Significance: The public and private funds raised by the American Colonization Society led to the settlement of approximately thirteen thousand African Americans in West Africa by 1867 and the establishment of the independent nation of Liberia. The organization’s guiding philosophy represented a middle ground between abolitionists and proslavery advocates. 

American Colonization Society

Liberia College, which opened in Monrovia only two decades after the American Colonization Society helped establish the first settlement of African American emigrants in Liberia. In 1951, the college became the University of Liberia. (Library of Congress)

Although the American Colonization Society (ACS) was not formed until December, 1816, the desire to remove black slaves from the United States had long existed. The gradual elimination of slavery in the northern states created a concern for the inferior status of free blacks in society. Some slaveholders in the South grew uneasy about their human property, and many more feared free blacks. These motivations led to the creation of the ACS, but their diversity contributed to the organization’s modest success.

The organizers of the American Colonization Society were varied and well connected. Reverend Robert Finley, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey, organized the first meeting, while Virginia politician Charles Fenton Mercer, Congressman Henry Clay of Kentucky, Francis Scott Key, and Congressman John Randolph of Virginia were among the early supporters. Supreme Court justice Bushrod Washington, a nephew of George Washington, was the society’s first president. After founding the society in Washington, D.C., the officers sought federal funds to carry out their mission. Former presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison soon supported the cause, as did their successor, James Monroe, who used his influence to arrange public funding.

The goal of the ACS was to establish an African colony where free blacks and manumitted slaves would be sent. However, persuading northern free blacks to volunteer was difficult. Southerners were often eager to export free blacks but not their own slaves. Nevertheless, the first shipload of eighty-six emigrants sailed from New York on January 31, 1820. No one in Africa welcomed the settlers taking tribal lands, and the unfamiliar climate, disease, and lack of supplies ravaged the first wave of immigrants. In December, 1821, with the armed assistance of the U.S. Navy, the ACS purchased Cape Mesurado, the present site of Monrovia, Liberia. By 1833, more than thirty-one hundred African Americans had arrived. Ironically, the American Colonization Society’s mission was aided by southerners, who wanted to rid society of free blacks in the wake of Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831. Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Mississippi, and Louisiana created their own colonizing missions during the 1830’s. All were incorporated into the Liberia colony, and the ACS increasingly became a federation of state societies.

The most notable success was Liberia’s declaration of independence in 1847. This action was encouraged by the ACS, whose financial difficulties made it impossible for it to care for the colony properly. In the years between Liberian independence and the U.S. Civil War, almost six thousand African Americans emigrated. In the five years after the war, more than two thousand more went to Liberia, but with contributions down, the American Colonization Society was practically bankrupt. In the decades to come, it functioned as a Liberian aid society focusing on education and missionary work.

The ALS evoked a wide variety of reactions before the Civil War. Certainly tinged with a racist belief that blacks would never earn equal rights, many white northerners sincerely thought that colonization was the best solution. Beginning in the 1830’s, abolition societies portrayed the ACS as antirepublican and proslavery. White southerners were largely apathetic. Most free blacks identified their future with the United States rather than an uncertain fate in a remote colony. The lack of consensus about the status of African Americans undermined the organization’s efforts and reflected the bitter divisions in American society. The American Colonization Society was formally dissolved in 1964.

M. Philip Lucas

Further Reading

Burin, Eric. Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Staudenraus, P. J. The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865.NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1961.

See also: Abolitionist movement; African Americans and immigrants; African immigrants; Emigration; Garvey, Marcus; Liberia; Slave trade; Universal Negro Improvement Association.

Read the full story

American Jewish Committee

Through its fund-raising and the work of its national and international subdivisions, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has exerted a major influence on the welfare of Jews throughout the world for more than a century.

Read the full story

American Protective Association

The American Protective Association was one of several American organizations created to counter the growing presence...

Read the full story

Anti-Defamation League

Identification: Civil rights organization founded to combat anti-Semitism

Date: Established in October, 1913

Significance: Although the Anti-Defamation League was founded to correct injustices toward the Jewish people, it later broadened its mission to seek justice and fair treatment for all social groups.

Anti-Defamation League

Leo Frank, whose lynching helped prompt the creation of the Anti-Defamation League. (Library of Congress)

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was founded as an American Jewish defense organization by the Chicago chapter of B’nai B’rith. A decade before World War I, the United States experienced a vast influx of immigrants. More than 10 percent were Jews, who tended to settle in the cities of the East Coast such as New York City. Many of these Jewish immigrants were living among other immigrants who had carried their hatred and fear of Jews from their home countries, and the seemingly endless Jewish immigration from eastern Europe increased anti-Semitism. Wearing unfamiliar clothing, speaking a language most Americans did not understand, and engaging in religious practices that seemed bizarre, Jews were "othered” by some non-Jewish Americans who experienced discomfort and fear.

At the 1908 meeting of the executive committee of B’nai B’rith, Rabbi Joseph Silverman of New York proposed establishing an agency to promote "the Jewish name” and to combat stereotypes of Jews. Five years later, Chicago lawyer Sigmund Livingston, himself an immigrant from Germany, suggested the formation of a National Caricature Committee, the name reflecting the negative portrayals of Jews in the media. Early film, the vaudeville stage, dime novels, and even daily newspapers introduced the stereotype of the repulsive Jew. On stage, the Jew was a cheater, an arsonist, or a liar; on film, he was a usurer, smuggler, or worse. These stereotypes reinforced anti-Semitism and helped lay the groundwork formobviolence against Jews.

A few months before the founding of the organization that was finally named the Anti-Defamation League, Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager, had been found guilty of rape and murder in an Atlanta trial where crowds outside the courthouse chanted, "Hang the Jew.” After reviewing the evidence, the governor of Georgia commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. In August, 1915, a mob inflamed by anti-Semitic propaganda took Frank from prison and lynched him. Anti- Semitic words turned to deeds.

Livingston and fifteen leaders of the Jewish community convened the first meeting of the ADL in Chicago. They established a 150-member executive committee representing Jews across the United States. With a budget of two hundred dollars from B’nai B’rith and two desks in Livingston’s law office, the organization began its mission: "to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience, and if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people.” The league was also committed to securing "justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” One of the first actions of the ADL was to eliminate negative images of Jews in the media. Adolph S. Ochs, a member of the ADL executive committee and publisher of The New York Times, wrote a letter to newspaper editors nationwide decrying the use of "objectionable and vulgar” references to Jews in the national press. By 1920, such references had virtually ceased.

A Continuing Mission

The work of the ADL was carried forward through aggressive campaigns to educate people about anti-Semitism. Through the publication of pamphlets and short films, the league sought to eradicate negative stereotypes of Jews and to promote awareness of Jewish contributions to American life. However, serious attempts to defame Jews continued. For example, in 1920, industrialist Henry Ford began publishing the widely circulated anti-Jewish tabloid The Dearborn Independent. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), proclaiming its hatred of Jews, experienced a resurgence in the South and several northern states, with four to five million members throughout the United States. KKK activities including boycotting Jewish merchants, smashing shop windows, and burning crosses outside synagogues.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (first published in English in 1919) was introduced to America and spread throughout the country. This document, later proved to be a forgery, stated that Jews were plotting to overthrow all governments and take over the world. Many Americans, conditioned to negative beliefs about Jews, accepted the document as truth. By September, 1920, anti-Semitism was so widespread that the ADL and other Jewish groups met to consider action. One outcome was a manifesto denouncing anti-Semitism signed by 116 of the nation’s leaders, all of whom were Christians, including U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, former presidentWilliam Howard Taft, and Cardinal William O’Connell.

During the 1930’s, as National Socialism (Nazism) gained momentum in Europe, attacks against Jews in America increased. The Nazis spent millions of dollars on propaganda in America; the ADL estimated that by the end of the 1930’s there were more than five hundred anti-Semitic organizations in the United States. During the lowest point of the Great Depression, many non-Jewish Americans believed that the Jews were responsible for their economic woes. The anti-Jewish radio propaganda of Father Charles Coughlin, broadcast over 475 stations, fueled this conspiracy theory.

Following World War II, the ADL worked toward ending social discrimination against Jews, focusing on barriers against Jewish memberships in organizations and prohibitions in housing. The ADL also started a "crack the quota” campaign against anti- Jewish discrimination in college and medical school admissions. The league’s weapons were the media and the law.

Over the years, the ADL has fought discrimination against Jews and other groups. During the 1960’s, for example, the ADL was actively involved with the Civil Rights movement. Headquartered since 1947 in New York City, the ADL works to provide civil liberties for all. It continues its original mission to heighten awareness of anti-Jewish propaganda, such as Holocaust-denying Web sites. The ADL alerts people to white supremacist pronouncements and denounces those who defame Jews.

Marcia B. Dinneen

Further Reading

Forster, Arnold. "The Anti-Defamation League.” The Wiener Library Bulletin 28, no. 33 (1975): 52- 58. A detailed look at the background of the ADL and the league’s continuing efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

Friedman, Saul A. No Haven for the Oppressed: United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1938-1945. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973. Discusses how the intensification of Judeophobia in the United States led to the founding of the ADL.

Grusd, Edward E. B’nai B’rith: The Story of a Covenant. New York: Appleton-Century, 1966. Describes the context that led to the founding of the ADL.

O’Brien, Lee. American Jewish Organizations and Israel. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. Includes general background on the ADL, including its founding, structure, and projects.

Svonkin, Stuart. Jews Against Prejudice: American Jews and the Fight for Civil Liberties. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Focuses on the post- World War II activities of the ADL.

See also: Affirmative action; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Semitism; Israeli immigrants; Jewish immigrants; Ku Klux Klan; Stereotyping.

Read the full story

Asian American Legal Defense Fund

Prior to the establishment of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), no reliable sources of assistance were available for special legal issues faced by the Asian American community in the eastern United States.

Read the full story

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

  • Affiliation with the AFL-CIO
  • APALA Convention

Identification: Labor-activist organization

Date: Founded on May 1, 1992

Significance: The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was formed to address the workplace and community needs of a growing Asian and Pacific Islander population in the United States.

The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convened for the first time on May Day, 1992, in Washington, D.C. That gathering drew five hundred Asian American and Pacific Islander labor and union activists from around the United States, including hotel and restaurant workers from Honolulu, longshore laborers from Seattle, garment factory workers from New York City, nurses from San Francisco, and supermarket workers from Los Angeles. The establishment of APALA was the culmination of several decades of Asian American labor activity.

Affiliation with the AFL-CIO

After the mid-1970’s, Asian American labor organizers in California worked to strengthen unionization efforts by holding organizational meetings in the larger Asian American communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Neighborhood-based organizations such as the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor (AAPL) grew out of these efforts, forging stronger ties between labor and community and uniting Asian union staff members more closely with rank-and-file labor leaders. The creation of the AAPL was a successful local movement, but it soon became clear to AAPL administrators that to organize significant numbers of Asian American workers, a national organizing effort would be needed. Led by Art Takei, the AAPL solicited organizational aid from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO).

AAPL vice president Kent Wong attended the 1989 national AFL-CIO convention in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the establishment of a national labor organization for Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland acknowledged Wong’s lobbying attempts by noting the local accomplishments of the AAPL in California and recognizing the organizing potential of the burgeoning Asian American workforce.

Two years after that AFL-CIO national convention, Kirkland appointed a national Asian Pacific American labor committee, comprising thirtyseven Asian American labor activists. The committee spent more than a year planning the founding meeting of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, finally releasing an invitation for Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists, labor activists, and workers to bridge the gap between the national labor movement and the Asian Pacific American community.

APALA Convention

More than five hundred delegates attended the May, 1992, APALA convention to adopt a constitution and set up a governmental structure with a national headquarters inWashington, D.C., and local chapters throughout the United States. Organized in this way, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance could receive recognition and legitimacy from a national administration guided by the AFL-CIO, while still using its powerful techniques of community organizing at the local level.

During the convention, APALA organizers and delegates recognized and honored Asian Pacific American labor pioneers whose achievements they believed had melded national and local unionization efforts successfully or who had made significant contributions toward heightening the recognition of Asian American laborers. Honorees included Philip Villamin Vera Cruz of the United FarmWorkers union and Ah Quon McElrath of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

APALA conventioneers looked ahead to the organization’s role in continuing such activism and achievement. They drafted a commitment document calling for empowerment of all Asian American and Pacific Islander workers through unionization on a national level, as well as the provision of national support for local unionization efforts. APALA also promoted the formation of AFL-CIO legislation that would create jobs, ensure national health insurance, reform labor law, and channel financial resources toward education and job training for Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Toward that end, a revision of U.S. governmental policies toward immigration was called for. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s commitment document supported immigration legislation that would promote family unification and provide improved access to health, education, and social services for immigrants. Finally, the document promoted national government action to prevent workplace discrimination against immigrant laborers and strongly supported vigorous prosecution for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes. APALA delegates passed several resolutions, which they forwarded to the AFL-CIO leadership. These documents decried the exploitative employment practices and civil rights violations alleged against several U.S. companies.

Convention delegates also participated in workshops that focused on facilitating multicultural harmony and solidarity, enhancing Asian American participation in unions, and advancing a national agenda to support broadly based civil rights legislation and improved immigration policies and procedures. Fromthese APALA workshops, two national campaigns were launched. The first involved working with the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute to recruit a new generation of Asian Pacific American organizers. The second campaign involved building a civil and immigration rights agenda for Asian Pacific American workers that was based on APALA’s commitment document and its convention resolutions.

Through the legislative statement of its goals and by lobbying for their societal implementation, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was the first Asian American labor organization to achieve both national and local success. Although by the time of the 1992 Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance convention Asian Americans had been engaged in various forms of unionization activity for more than 150 years, the establishment of APALA within the ranks of the AFL-CIO provided it with more powerful organizational techniques. APALA was able to unite Asian Pacific workers, simultaneously integrating them into the larger American labor movement.

Cynthia Gwynne Yaudes

Further Reading

Aguilar-San Juan, Karin, ed. The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990’s. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Explores the connection between race, identity, and empowerment within the workplace and the community. Covers Euro- American, African American, and Asian American cultures.

Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Examines the Asian American labor experience from a gendered perspective, asking how the oppression of Asian American workers has structured gender relationships among them.

Friday, Chris. Organizing Asian American Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. Analyzes the positive impact of Asian Pacific immigration upon the formation of West Coast and Pacific Northwest industries between 1870 and 1942.

Rosier, Sharolyn. "Solidarity Starts Cycle for APALA.” AFL-CIO News 37, no. 10 (May 11, 1992): 11. Summarizes the AFL-CIO conference report on the establishment of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.

Wong, Kent, ed. Voices for Justice: Asian Pacific American Organizers and the New Labor Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Collection of interviews with Asian Pacific American labor organizers and workers.

See also: Asian American literature; Asian immigrants; Chinese immigrants; Civil Rights movement; Issei; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese immigrants; Pacific Islander immigrants.

Read the full story

Association of Indians in America

Identification: National association of Asian Indians

Date: Founded on August 20, 1967

Significance: The association has provided a unified voice and sense of purpose for the nearly two million people of Asian Indian descent living in the United States, gathering them under the common bonds of Indian heritage and commitment to the United States.

In 1965, Congress passed a new Immigration and Nationality Act, repealing the Immigration Act of 1917 and opening the door to immigrants from India, who soon arrived in large numbers. Founded in 1967 and incorporated in 1971, the Association of Indians in America (AIA) is the oldest association of Asian Indians in the United States. The AIA has three goals: to support the social welfare of Asian Indians living in the United States and to ease their transition into the mainstream; to help members work for development in India; and to provide charitable, cultural, and educational means for Asian Indians to participate in American community life. The AIA is a grassroots organization with chapters throughout the United States. It has worked to gain political recognition of Asian Indians by the federal government, to lobby for the reunification of families, to promote scholarship in areas affecting public policy, to support voter registration, and to assemble resources to aid victims of natural disasters around the world.

Cynthia A. Bily

Further Reading

Bacon, Jean Leslie. Life Lines: Community, Family, and Assimilation Among Asian Indian Immigrants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Das Gupta, Monisha. Unruly Immigrants: Rights, Activism, and Transnational South Asian Politics in the United States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006.

Ng, Franklin, ed. The Asian American Encyclopedia. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

See also: Asian immigrants; Asian Indian immigrants; Immigration Act of 1917; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965; Motel industry.

Read the full story

Catholic Charities USA

Catholic Charities USA is the second-largest provider of social services in the United States, behind only the federal government.

Read the full story

Chicano movement

Similar to other movements of this period promoting civil rights, the Chicano movement made society aware of the injustices suffered by Mexican Americans in the United States and spurred social change.

Read the full story

Chinese American Citizens Alliance

The alliance has provided a unified political voice for American-born Chinese Americans, combating discrimination in immigration, housing, education, and health care and creating social activities for the celebration of Chinese heritage.

Read the full story

Chinese boycott of 1905

The boycott signified the emergence of modern Chinese nationalism and the importance of immigration in Sino-American relations.

Read the full story

Chinese family associations

Chinese family associations, or fangs, provided social and financial support to early Chinese immigrants living in hostile environments.

Read the full story

Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance

The alliance successfully defeated anti-Chinese legislation in New York City during the 1930’s.

Read the full story

Chinese secret societies

The secret societies founded in China several centuries ago to combat unjust rulers often turned to criminality. During the mid-nineteenth century, following the discovery of gold in California, many members of these societies emigrated to the United States.

Read the full story

Chinese Six Companies

Begun to promote community cooperation and to protect ethnic identity in the face of discrimination and violence against first-generation Chinese immigrants in the Chinatown district of San Francisco, the Chinese Six Companies quickly grew into a powerful national organization that worked to defend the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans in the face of increasingly anti-Chinese federal legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress between 1880 and 1920.

Read the full story

Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion

Made up of a relatively small group of notable public figures, this ad hoc organization successfully leveraged its influence to persuade other organizations and members of the public to lobby Congress for the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Read the full story

Civil Rights movement

The U.S. government’s policies regarding immigration have historically reflected prevailing racial and cultural biases held by Americans with the most power. 

Read the full story

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

Since its creation, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) has worked as an immigrant advocacy group with Southern California’s Los Angeles County.

Read the full story

El Rescate

By providing free legal and social services to Salvadorans and other Central American immigrants, as well as refugees and immigrants from other Latin American countries living in Los Angeles, California, El Rescate has been an important force for social justice and human rights.

Read the full story

Eugenics movement

The eugenics movement had a significant influence on U.S. immigration policy. Politicians, reformers, and civic leaders imbued with a sense of Americanism and scientific justification enacted laws to limit immigration to what they regarded as “desirable” types.

Read the full story

Marcus Garvey

Marcus GarveyThe first person of African descent to galvanize black people throughout the world with the idea of returning to Africa, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which sought to deliver African Americans from injustice, encourage racial self-improvement, and promote a back-to-Africa movement.

Read the full story

Gospel Society

Founded in San Francisco by Japanese Christian students, the Gospel Society was the first immigrant association established by Japanese in the United States. The organization played an integral part in helping many new Japanese immigrants adjust to life in America while pursuing their studies.

Read the full story

Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch was a U.S.- based group made up of private citizens devoted to monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, an international agreement signed in 1975 by thirty-five countries pledging to respect basic human and civil rights.

Read the full story


Hull-HouseHull-House provided numerous services for the poor, many of whom were immigrants, that helped immigrants to learn about American culture and life.

Read the full story

Immigrant aid organizations

Immigrant aid organizationsImmigrant aid organizations played an important role in helping immigrants to establish themselves in the United States.

Read the full story

Immigration law

The gatekeeper of the borders of the United States, federal immigration law determines who may enter the country, how long they may stay, their status, their rights and duties while in the United States, and how they may become resident aliens or American citizens.

Read the full story

Immigration lawyers

Immigration lawyersAs the complexities and restrictions of U.S. immigration law have increased, the legal profession’s subspecialty of immigration lawyers has flourished, extending in some cases to social-cause lawyering.

Read the full story

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was designed to balance public concerns about increasing illegal immigration with business’s need for cheap labor and the need to address issues of racial and ethnic discrimination.

Read the full story