Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North

Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North

Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North

Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North

Excerpt

Throughout the antebellum period the black population of Boston organized itself to deal with local and national problems. The social characteristics of this small community determined, in part, the nature of its organization. Because those who constituted the community were largely poor and were excluded from many of the social services of the city, they found informal, cooperative solutions to their common problems. This cooperation, which was in some ways a reaction to discrimination by the wider society, became an important factor in the development of black social activism.

The task of serving this poor, diverse, and transient community was difficult, but the necessities of individual survival spurred communal action. Black Boston was not a monolithic society. Class and social differences existed, and occupation, geographic origin, and skin color often defined differences in residence, job skills, and association. There were disagreements over questions of integration and separation, and cooperation with whites or independent black action. Yet all blacks were unified in the belief that the basic rights of citizenship ought to be extended to Americans of African descent. Class distinctions became more important after the Civil War. The relatively small size of the community and its involvement in actions against slavery tended to diminish the impact of class during the antebellum period.

The black family was particularly important since it became the cooperative model extended to other institutions built on the same principles of sharing. These institutions, particularly the church, were the foundation upon which a community was built, one that developed the strength to deal with shared problems. From these institutions and organizations came community leaders who denounced local racism and national slavery, verbalizing their interconnection. Despite the transience of many blacks -- especially unskilled workers and fugitives from slavery -- important institutions provided a continuity in black community life. They eased adjustment to the new city and provided the mechanisms for migrants to become involved in ongoing community action.

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