After Slavery: Educator Resources

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2. A Black Woman Imagines a Differently Gendered Working Class

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.

Revolutionary times often prompt revolutionary responses, and nowhere was this more visible than in the months following emancipation. Rapidly changing circumstances—of politics, work, civil participation, and even weather—inspired former slaves to astonishing levels of creativity. The advent of free labor was one such revolution. Guided by ideas and experiences they had brought with them from slavery, and by the need to simply survive, freedwomen experimented with a wide range of solutions. In doing so, they often articulated very different—and novel—sets of gendered ideas, proposing new roles and responsibilities for women as they grappled with the special challenges that confronted them and their daughters in freedom. In the two letters below, Aima Ship offers instructions to her daughters, and in so doing offers a vision of a new female working class; one whose origins can be traced back not to shop-floor fraternities, but to pre-existing domestic and affective bonds. In other words, a working class built out of kin, and in this case, female kin.

A Black Woman Imagines a Differently Gendered Working Class

Hopkinsville Ky May 13the 1866

Dear Dear Daughter Leathe this leave me tolerble well i am doing very well as far as a home is concern i have to work no matter where i go for i have got know one to take care of me but the good Lord if i do wright he will be my support we all have to look to him to give us strength in ever thing we do it is out of my power to come to see you for i am at work trying to make somthing to take care of myself i am getting five dollars per month for my work they allow me to raise a little cotton & brum corn and several other little things Mrs Lawson has sent for me to come and live with them till i die i am going soon that is if i dont change my mind i have ben press in spirits all the time i thought i would die any how some times they have took Dorra child and bound it out to Miss Sally Husband till she is twenty one1 i did not like that way of doing i had got her a good home but they come and took her away then had her bound to him Miss Ann Ellis wants a woman to wash iron cook or do any thing that come to hand get up soon have soon breakfast one that is smart she want one that will stay at home and attend to her business work with out thinking she is doing to much she want one that is single she will treat them good if they do wright can you find her one of that kind write to her and let her know as soon as you can look around and see if you can find one that will suit miss Ann you know she want them to stay at home and do her work wright then she will pay them dont send her one she cant trust give my love to all that inquire after me Your Mother

[signed] Aima Ship

Hopkinsville Ky May the 13t 1866

Dear Adeline I am tolerble well except pain in my limbs i suffer with my feet a good deal i have to keep in good spirits to get along if i keep my health i think i can make some money to take care of myself in old age it is out of my power to come to see you all if i make a thing i must take care of it to by me a home for that is what i want i think if we all will work and save our money what we get it will soon by us a home but if we dont save it we wont have any when we want it save all you can i dont intend to spend any more of mine if can help it i have to by a pair of shoes for Sunday tell your Daughter Fany God bless her soul i think of her ever day be a good child till Grandmar come to see her she is coming a Christmas if i have good luck what are you and Leatha getting for your work i herd they was given high wages their send me what is the most they give the hands get ten dollars per month here some four & five and six and seven i would send your children preant i can trust no one write to your Brother & wife tell Leatha to come if she dont stay but a hour the woman dont stay long at a place Know if they dont do to suit they have to leave you must all come soon God bless you give my love to all your Mother

[signed] Aima Ship

Sources: Aima Ship to Leathe, 13 May 1866, and Aima Ship to Adeline, 13 May 1866, both enclosed in Col. J. R. Lewis to Bvt. Maj. C. B. Fisk, 29 June 1866, L-84 1866, Registered Letters Received, ser. 3379, TN Asst. Comr., RG 105.


Questions to Consider

  1. What kind of future does Aima Ship imagine for herself, her daughters, and their children?

  2. By what means does Aima expect to achieve that vision? What kind of strategies does she propose?

  3. What kind of role has Aima assigned to herself in this new order? If you could ask him, how do you think Charles Soule (Unit 1, Document 4) would respond to Aima’s expectations? How about the authors of South Carolina's 1865 "Black Codes" (Unit 3, Document 8)?

  4. Who are Aima's friends? Who does she trust? How do your answers help us understand terms such as "race" and "white supremacy"?

  5. Aima has clearly found ways to accommodate herself to free labor, but she is not uncritical of the system. What aspects of free labor, as it is unfolding in the former slaveholding South, does she find most egregious?

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