Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

were provided. Among the more thoughtful and intelligent she formed a reading club, and read to them or told them about the lives of noble women and other things that would still further arouse their ambition to become good women. What this teacher did we can do and perhaps some of us are doing.

We cannot too seriously consider this question of the moral uplifting of our women for it is of national importance to us. It is with our women that the purity and safety of our families rest, and what our families are the race will be.


114 INTRODUCTION OF MASTER WORKMAN POWDERLY

Frank J. Ferrell

Read in isolation, the introduction that the African American labor leader Frank Ferrell gave Master Workman Terence V Powderly at the Richmond convention of the Knights of Labor would seem remarkable only for its brevity. But as a response to recent racial incidents involving black conventioneers while in Richmond, Ferrell's act in speaking held enormous symbolic importance for the African American Knights and others who supported social equality. At the same time, Ferrell's brief speech and other acts of color-line defiance spurred outrage in the racist white press.

By 1886, there were more than 60,000 African American members of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor. Black workers who had long been excluded from most labor unions found greater acceptance among the Knights, although not without painful exceptions and limitations. Some Knights saw the organization not simply as a union for labor negotiation but as a vehicle for broad social change, particularly with regard to racial equality. These views were far from universally held among the Knights, however. When General Master Workman Powderly toured the South in 1885, the year before the Richmond convention, he addressed white and black members in separate appearances arranged by the white Southern coordinators of his tour. There were many black Knights in the South (more than 5,000 in Virginia alone), yet they remained barred from general union with white members.

When the delegates of New York's District 49 learned that their Afri-

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