Black Women and Their
Antebellum Quest for Poli
tical and Social Equality
Whether struggling within the clutches of "the evil institution" or mounting efforts as free persons, the ideas of mutual aid and collective action led African Americans to more specific forms of political action. Among free people in the northeastern United States, who experienced lives of comparative rather than complete freedom, self-help and racial uplift had become driving forces of community life and activity well before the end of the eighteenth century. Living free in cities such as Philadelphia, New York, and Boston forced men and women to strain against a plethora of legal constraints and social restrictions designed to maintain their status as members of an "accursed race." As the decades wore on, successful attempts at self-help gave rise to a generation open to various forms of social protest to address their concerns. What was nurtured and continued to evolve in the process was a belief in black leadership and A sense of race consciousness necessary for organized political action. Black females formed a crucial flank at every stage of this struggle as they themselves moved forward through overlapping phases of individual and group action. Starting with mutual aid societies, continuing through literary and antislavery groups and beyond, they helped to reshape and broaden the very concept of political action.
Before the last decade of the eighteenth century, free black women demon