In September 1919 delegates from twelve states and the District of Columbia met in convention to organize the National Brotherhood of Workers,
a federation of African American unions. Following the example of the United Hebrew Trades, which organized independently and then worked together with the American Federation of Labor to organize Jewish immigrants, the National Brotherhood intended to promote organization among black workers, skilled and unskilled, and thereby increase their strength and their visibility in the larger labor movement.
Overall the National Brotherhood had its greatest success among shipyard and dockworkers in Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, Va., probably because many of these workers belonged AFL federal labor unions. As AFL members they could be seated in AFL-affiliated central and state labor councils, giving black workers a voice and vote in regional affairs.
A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owens helped organize the National Brotherhood and sat on the Board of Directors, but the relationship did not last: Their magazine, The Messenger, was the official union journal, but arguments soon erupted over that arrangement. Although the group launched another journal, The National Brotherhood Worker, which targeted the AFL as unfriendly to black workers, the effort did not take off and by 1921 was National Brotherhood had dissolved.