Black History Month: The Urban League of Onondaga County

The Urban League opened its doors in Syracuse in 1964 during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Rather than attaining equality through protests, the Urban League attempted to gain control of issues of race and civil rights by attaining leadership and financial support throughout the business community.

The following is from the Onondaga County Public Library:

The Urban League of Onondaga County, Inc. was one of the 113 affiliates of the National Urban League. Founded by Dennis Dowdell Sr., The Urban League worked on implementing the basic American values, such as family life stability, home ownership, education and employment for blacks, other minorities and the poor. Its mission was, “To assist African-Americans toward self empowerment for achievement of justice, economic, educational, social and racial equality.” To meet its goals, the Urban League of Onondaga County, Inc. offered various services and programs for improvement of the American society for the long term, including: Educational Programs; Youth Development Programs; Housing Services; Workforce Development Services.

In the 1960s, the Urban League of Onondaga County, Inc. was known among the local African-Americans as the first stop to search for good jobs, thus the organization was cooperating with local businesses, police and fire departments to hire black people. Each year, in a formal annual ceremony the Urban League of Onondaga County, Inc. gave awards to individuals, families and local businesses who were striving to advance racial equality. The most recognizable award was the Harriet Tubman Award.

After the resignation of Leon E. Modeste, the CEO with the longest tenure in the Urban League of Onondaga County, from 1979 to 1994, the organization faced many problems, mostly financial and managerial. In less than ten years of struggle, in January, 2002 the board of Urban League of Onondaga County, Inc. decided to dissolve the organization and to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.