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League for Brotherhood

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Washburne

Howard Washburne of Southern Vandalia.

The League for Brotherhood was a political organization dedicated to furthering racial equality in the Confederation of North America. It was established by founder Howard Washburne on 14 May 1920 (Sobel erroneously gives the date as 14 April), the day the Mexican Senate passed President Emiliano Calles' Manumission Act, freeing Mexico's Negro slaves.

At a mass meeting of the Friends of Black Mexico celebrating the Act's passage, Washburne declared that "the F.B.M. is dead, felled by its own success. Now the fight for democracy will be spearheaded by a new organization, the League for Brotherhood, which will welcome support from all men of good will, whatever their race or station in life. The fight for manumission in Mexico has lasted four years. This new struggle will take more than four times four years. We may not see its end, just as Moses did not enter the promised land. But the path is open. The way is clear. We shall prevail."

Washburne was eager to broaden the leadership and constituency of the League, to further his goal of creating a nationwide organization to obtain a greater share of jobs and power for the C.N.A.'s Negroes. However, many of the reformers who joined the League rejected capitalism and republicanism, and even rejected the industrialized civilization that Washburne sought to gain greater entry to. Through sheer weight of numbers, the new influx of reformers was able to take control of the League in late 1920. By the middle of 1921, the League had seven million members, most of them dissatisfied middle-class whites and intellectuals.

By this time, the League had expanded its program to include the issues of foreign policy, federalism, the use of natural resources, and the role of the National Financial Administration. Winslow McGregor said that the League "resembles the fat woman at the circus. It can't help eating more of each tempting dish placed before it, and each time it does, it becomes more slovenly and incapable of movement." James Billington, the youngest member of the Northern Confederation Council, called the League "misguided, and led by Pied Pipers who cannot even find the river."

Washburne proved to be incapable of providing effective leadership. Sobel notes that he increasingly spoke in biblical language, and talked of a "moral regeneration" of the C.N.A., but rarely offered concrete proposals. Although a large minority within the Liberal Party wished to draft Washburne as their candidate in the 1923 Grand Council elections, he would not seek political power. Other leaders such as Ivan Falls of the Agrarian Alliance, Fred Harcourt of the Workers' Army, and Arnold Gelb of Universities for Justice were better organized, but lacked Washburne's popularity. Benjamin Morrison said in October 1922 that "the movement had popular leaders without programs, and programs without popular leaders. Let us hope that the right program does not find the right leader. If this happens, the nation is doomed."

The summer of 1922 saw the worst riots and demonstrations in the C.N.A. since the Bloody Eighties, as the League and its opponents clashed in the streets. However, the growing polarization within the C.N.A. was averted by Owen Galloway, the President of North American Motors, who gave a vitavised speech following an episode of the Galloway Playhouse in which he proposed to subsidize emigration within and from the C.N.A. in hopes of separating the League and its enemies.

Galloway's proposal brought about a rapid decline in the League's numbers, as white members took advantage of the Galloway Plan to emigrate to other countries, or to unsettled areas of Manitoba, while Negro members used the Galloway Plan to move to the industrialized cities of the Northern Confederation and Indiana. Washburne himself was relegated to a minor post in the League, and resigned in 1923.

The League was reduced to a small remnant by the time Billington succeeded to the office of Governor-General in 1950. The remaining League members considered Billington a race traitor for his failure to advance Negro rights during his tenure as Council President and Governor-General, and turned instead to his leading critic, Councilman Richard Mason. Mason went on to defeat Billington in the 1953 Grand Council elections.


Sobel's sources for the League for Brotherhood are McGregor's A Child Shall Lead Them: The Idiocy of Our Times (New York, 1921); Jeremy Slater's Essays of the Revolution (New York, 1921); James Chester's Washburne of the C.N.A. (London, 1928); Farley Shaw's Voices of the Great Protest (New York, 1930); June Zaccone's The Galloway Plan and the Races (New York, 1930); and Montgomery Farmer's Making a New World (New York, 1966).

This is the Featured Article for the month of March 2017.

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