Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 39
NEGRO LEADERS

The Revolutionary period was the beginning of steady and remarkable progress for the Negroes. The three important centers for the development of leadership and institutional life among them were New York City with 14,000 free Negroes by 1830, Philadelphia with 9,700, and Boston with slightly less than 2,000. Other important centers were Providence, Albany, Newark and Pittsburgh. By 1830 there were 38,000 in Pennsylvania, 18,000 in New Jersey, 45,000 in New York, 8,000 in Connecticut, and 7,000 in Massachusetts. In this geographical area, between the time of the Revolution and the beginning of the organized antislavery movement, were developed the religious, educational, business, and social leaders. It was the period of gradual emancipation and of wholesale kidnappings.

To the South was the land of perpetual slavery, where the struggle to be free from physical bondage and from the mental and spiritual darkness of slavery has surpassed our ability to understand, but it seethed in the souls of the free Negroes, whose numbers were constantly augmented by fugitives. Once free from the deadening influence of slavery these people began life anew with spirit and zest and enthusiasm. There were among them many professional men, including preachers (some of white congregations), educators, lawyers, physicians. They owned property, engaged in business, paid taxes; and some were wealthy. They had fought in the Revolutionary armies, some free and some slave, and those who had been slaves had fought both for the freedom of their country and for their own personal freedom.

With the threat of permanent slavery to the South by kidnapping and the promise of permanent security to the North by flight to Canada; with the slave power gaining a greater stranglehold upon the federal government each passing year; with its Northern arm of colonization fomenting oppression in order to drive them out; and without protection from any agency of government: under these circumstances the free Negroes not only dedicated their lives and fortunes to elevating their own people but to protecting the fugitives and getting them to Canada. They fought for their own right to remain in the United States, and through it all they were a thousand times more loyal to the Constitution and the Union than white men of many times their numbers both North and South.

Schools, churches, and lodges were evidence of intellectual and social achievement, the church being the most important single element in Negro society. It was the strongest of their organizations, being a social institution, a religious center, a forum for the exchange of ideas, and a training center of leaders. Benezet's schools in Philadelphia continued to expand after his death.1 African free schools were begun in New York before 1790. The first Negro schools were established in Boston in 1798. New York began state support for these schools in 1797, Pennsylvania in 1818, and Boston in 1820. All of this was a part of the broad program of the convention period of the antislav

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