and Black Abolitionism
PAUL A. CIMBALA
In January 1849, Mary Ann Shadd, a twenty-five-year-old free-born African- American schoolteacher from Wilmington, Delaware, boldly criticized the Northern black leadership in a letter soon published in Frederick Douglass North Star--a forum the leadership was bound to notice. Unleashing one verbal volley after another, she ridiculed black conventioneers who made thumping speeches at their annual meetings, "whining over our difficulties and afflictions, passing resolutions on resolutions to any extent," but who were not very effective in seeing "practical efforts to an end." She chastised a money-hungry, "corrupt clergy" full of "gross ignorance and insolent bearing" for "sapping our every means, and, as a compensation, inculcating ignorance as a duty, superstition as true religion." And she advised free blacks to ignore these "high priests" who urged them to put aside worldly concerns lest they be distracted from devoting themselves to contemplating the next life.
Shadd's letter may have lacked tact, but it embodied a style that would become the hallmark of her career in reform. More important, however, were the ideas outlined along with the personality revealed, ideas that formed the lifelong core of Shadd's reform philosophy. "We should do more, and talk less," she advised. Northern blacks must be world-wise, must think in practical terms, and must take charge of their destiny. They must emphasize "individual enterprise and self-reliance," because by becoming producers, they would earn the respect of the larger white community in which they would continue to live. They must grapple with ignorance, taking "the knowledge of the white man" while avoiding "imitating his follies." And, Shadd warned, they should not allow their preachers to disabuse them of the importance of the political franchise. She saw "no need" for "our distinctive meetings," a conclusion drawn as much from her opposition to segregation, which kept blacks and whites from