Not Alms but Opportunity

The Urban League and the Politics of Racial Uplift, 1910-1950

By Touré F. Reed

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5902-5
    Published: September 2008
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8854-4
    Published: June 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8224-0
    Published: June 2009

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Illuminating the class issues that shaped the racial uplift movement, Touré Reed explores the ideology and policies of the national, New York, and Chicago Urban Leagues during the first half of the twentieth century. Reed argues that racial uplift in the Urban League reflected many of the class biases pervading contemporaneous social reform movements, resulting in an emphasis on behavioral, rather than structural, remedies to the disadvantages faced by Afro-Americans.

Reed traces the Urban League's ideology to the famed Chicago School of Sociology. The Chicago School offered Leaguers powerful scientific tools with which to foil the thrust of eugenics. However, Reed argues, concepts such as ethnic cycle and social disorganization and reorganization led the League to embrace behavioral models of uplift that reflected a deep circumspection about poor Afro-Americans and fostered a preoccupation with the needs of middle-class blacks. According to Reed, the League's reform endeavors from the migration era through World War II oscillated between projects to "adjust" or even "contain" unacculturated Afro-Americans and projects intended to enhance the status of the Afro-American middle class. Reed's analysis complicates the mainstream account of how particular class concerns and ideological influences shaped the League's vision of group advancement as well as the consequences of its endeavors.

About the Author

Touré F. Reed is associate professor of Afro-American history at Illinois State University.
For more information about Touré F. Reed, visit the Author Page.


“Reed succeeds in making sense of the ideological and class perspectives that shaped the initiatives of the Urban League. . . . He also makes a compelling argument for a more holistic approach to any project designed to ‘uplift the race.’”--Journal of American Ethnic History

"A first-rate treatment of its subject."--Journal of American History

"[An] excellent study of the National Urban League. . . . What distinguishes Reed's study from previous scholarship is not his critique of the economic and cultural biases of racial uplift but, rather, his detailed analysis of their effects."--U.S.

Not Alms but Opportunity is at once a solid institutional history of the early decades of the National Urban League as well as a nuanced exploration of the very complicated politics of racial uplift. It is refreshing to see the ways that Reed gives the organization flesh and blood. In his hands the Urban League is seen as a totally human invention--altruistic in its determination to make a better way for black Americans while simultaneously riven by class distinctions and confining notions of 'proper behavior.'"--Jonathan Holloway, author of Confronting the Veil: Abram Harris, E. Franklin Frazier, and Ralph Bunche, 1919-1941