After Slavery: Educator Resources

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10. A Black Minister Proposes a Collective Solution to Freedom's Gendered Problems

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Seven: Gender and the Politics of Freedom in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Black women with close male kin—husbands, fathers, brothers, and working-aged sons—looked to them for assistance as they struggled to come to terms with free-labor's unevenly gendered terrain. Though they frequently met with the kind of challenges described earlier (see Unit 7, Document 6), they were fortunate compared to women and children who had no one but themselves to depend on. In communities across the former Confederacy, black southerners stepped up to assist those who could not help themselves, and who ex-slaveholders so emphatically no longer wanted. Sometimes that help took the form of donations of cash or supplies of food from churches and various charitable institutions. But with many former slaves—male as well as female—teetering on the edge of their own destitution, assistance took more diminutive and short-term form: perhaps a bed to sleep in, a few cast-off clothes, or perhaps a meal or two. Such contributions were enormous relative to the wealth of those who made them, but they rarely lifted the indigent for more than a few moments. In the letter below, a committee of black men suggests a more substantive kind of assistance when they offer their services to those who found it difficult to find employment on their own. Like so much else that emerged out of freedom's dynamic context, it was a plan that was full of gendered ideas and assumptions.

A Black Minister Proposes a Collective Solution to Freedom's Gendered Problems

Beatties pond, Lincolnton county north carolina, January 4th 1869

Dear Sir I take my pen in hand this morning to drop you a few lines, hoping you will agree with me in my Undertaking by the Benevolence of the people and by assisttance of the omnipotent God we elected You for our Governer for the State of N.C. we form our Selfs in Sosieties and Ligues &C and elected you, and Genrl grant, and Colfax and all of the Radicals officials and our Ligue has made a Cunclusion to write you this precep, the is a grate many Womens and Childrens and boys going a Bout working for people and dont know how to make a Bargain and they is not giting theyr Rights by a grate dail. this is going on in this Section of the Country to a full extence, and we want to know If Some of the Best men of our Ligue Could Stand as garddians for all Such people in our Reach not let them make a bargain them Selfs but Some of us go and make it for them and see that they git the money &C governer it is desspert the way Some of our Coler is treated and we hav a feeling for our Race and Coler, and we want to Stop Some of this intreatment, and If you please Sir gave us Some information a bout this all important matter, as we is a ignarent and down troden and yet opresed Race of Coler, 12 of us made this agreement in the neighborhood of Beattes Pond hopeing you will assist us in Standing gardains for Some of this Colord Race.

please dont think Strange my Writeing I am a poor Color man dont know much, but please try and make out this Stamering hand, and write to me by next mail. when you write please direc to Beatties Pond in Care of Samuel Lewis.

please write to me Soon and let us know 

I Shill close by Saying I reman yours truly in hart
yours Respectfully
[signed] Rev. Samuel Lewis

Source: Rev. Samuel Lewis M.E. to W. W. Holden, 4 Jan. 1869, box 3, Correspondence, Governor Holden Papers, North Carolina Department of Archives, Raleigh, N.C.


Questions to Consider

  1. When Samuel Lewis writes that "we form our Selfs in Sosieties and Ligues &C," of whom is he speaking? Who is the "we" in this context? How and why is it that they came together? What do your answers tell us about Lewis's gendered understandings and their origins?

  2. In Lewis's mind, what kind of relationship should prevail between women and men? How do you think Aima Ship might respond to this? (See Unit 7, Document 2.) How about Louisa Durant? (See Unit 1, Document 9.)

  3. How might employers and prospective employers respond to Samuel Lewis's proposal? Would it complicate or confirm their own gendered thinking about black men as well as black women?

  4. For analytical reasons, scholars often create categories, thinking and writing in terms of "economy," "politics," "family," "race," and "gender," and so forth as if they were independent entities. Is this how Samuel Lewis and the people of Beatties Ford experience their day-to-day lives? Why or why not?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Seven